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#AmWriting

Updated 3 days ago

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Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen. amwriting.substack.com

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Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen. amwriting.substack.com

iTunes Ratings

156 Ratings
Average Ratings
141
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2
2

Love this podcast!

By erinpear - Dec 03 2019
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Practical writing advice. I learn something every episode.

Gives me a sense of community

By SueCampbellPDX - Aug 16 2019
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Always a delightful and informative listen.

iTunes Ratings

156 Ratings
Average Ratings
141
10
1
2
2

Love this podcast!

By erinpear - Dec 03 2019
Read more
Practical writing advice. I learn something every episode.

Gives me a sense of community

By SueCampbellPDX - Aug 16 2019
Read more
Always a delightful and informative listen.

Listen to:

Cover image of #AmWriting

#AmWriting

Updated 3 days ago

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Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen. amwriting.substack.com

75: #NovelPreparations

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...in which Jess and KJ grill superstar guest Sarina Bowen about what you need before you sit down to write your novel next month.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Oct 06 2017

44mins

Play

106: #FirstTimerMistakes

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…in which Jess and KJ are again joined by book coach Jennie Nash, this time to discuss the three most common pitfalls made by new novelists.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

May 11 2018

40mins

Play

99: #ImposterSyndrome

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...in which Jess and KJ confront the voices in their heads second guessing their work, and have some tips on how you can do the same.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Mar 23 2018

40mins

Play

95: #PitchingandPromotion

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...in which Jess and KJ discuss the advantages of face-time (IRL not the app) when pitching an idea, and things to do to promote your book.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Feb 23 2018

36mins

Play

84: #WritersGifts 2

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…in which Jess and KJ, eventually, share their (and listener) ideas about the perfect items for your gift list or for the writer in your life.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Dec 08 2017

42mins

Play

Episode 183: #FacebookforWriters

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Writers need a page, a profile and a whole lot of patience and persistence to even feel like we’re close to getting Facebook “right.”

The question first appeared, as these things do, in the #AmWriting Facebook group. A book is coming! I’m on Facebook (obviously), but do I need an author page in addition to my profile? Why—and what should I do with one once I’ve got one?

Our answer is yes, but of course it doesn’t stop there. In this episode, we talk the ins and outs of Facebook for writers of all kinds, with a primer on the basics and then a few ninja-level tips from Sarina.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, a preview of the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, November 4, 2019: Top 5 Things You Don’t Need to Be a “Real” Writer. We’d love your support, and we hope you’ll love our Top 5s. Join in for actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

To support the podcast and help it stay free, subscribe to our weekly #WritersTopFive email.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

The #AmWriting Facebook Group

Grown and Flown on Facebook

Ron Lieber’s Author Facebook Page

Sarina’s Facebook Page

Sarendipity (Sarina’s Facebook Fan Group)

Jess’s Facebook Page

KJ’s Facebook Page, which she didn’t even remember existed but will now tend as directed by Sarina.

ManyChat

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Jess: Home, Run Away, Harlan Coben (also mentioned, Tell No One)

KJ: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal

Sarina: Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo

#FaveIndieBookstore

Gibson’s, Concord NH

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

The image in our podcast illustration is by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                        00:01                    Hello listeners, KJ here. If you’re in with us every week, you’re what I like to call “people of the book.’ And some of us book people discover somewhere along the way that not only we writers, we’re people with a gift for encouraging other writers. For some of us, that comes out in small ways, but for others it’s a calling and an opportunity to build a career doing work you love. Our sponsor, Author Accelerator, provides book coaching to authors (like me) but also needs and trains book coaches. If that’s got your ears perked up, head to https://www.authoraccelerator.com and click on “become a book coach.” Is it recording?

Jess:                                     00:02                    Now it's recording, go ahead.

KJ:                                        00:45                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing.

Jess:                                     00:45                    Alright, let's start over.

KJ:                                        00:45                    Awkward pause, I'm going to rustle some papers.

Jess:                                     00:45                    Okay.

KJ:                                        00:54                    Now one, two, three. Hey all, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting. #AmWriting is your podcast, your weekly podcast, our podcast, about writing all the things. Fiction, nonfiction, pitches, proposals, essays you know what? All the things, except poetry. None of us do that. But we did have a poet on once. I dunno, I just was thinking that the other day like, wait a minute, it's not quite all the things. Alright, back to the regularly scheduled introduction. #AmWriting is the podcast about sitting down and getting your work, whatever it is, done.

Jess:                                     01:40                    KJ, before I introduce myself, speaking of the intro changing up, we got an email this week from someone who said, 'Wait, you changed the pattern at the beginning of the episode and I don't know what to do with that.' It was very, very funny.

KJ:                                        01:54                    I love that people go back and listen to all the episodes. It brings me incredible joy.

Jess:                                     01:58                    Yes, it does. I am Jess Lahey, I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book about preventing substance abuse in kids. And I write at various places including the New York Times, Washington Post and the Atlantic.

Sarina:                                 02:13                    And I'm Sarina Bowen, the author of 30 plus contemporary romance novels. And you can find more of me at sarinabowen.com.

KJ:                                        02:22                    And I am KJ Dell'Antonia, a novelist and also the author of the nonfiction book How to Be a Happier Parent, first novel will be out next summer, more to come I hope. You'll sometimes still find my work at the New York Times and in a variety of other places. So that's it, that's who we are. We know some things and today our plan is to talk about what we know about Facebook. But before we do, I just want to thank everyone who has gone in and subscribed to our weekly emails that come out every week about the podcast. That is a new thing that we're doing and I love that people are finding it useful. Every week we send you little something about what the episode is, all the links, and a way to see a transcript, which is pretty cool. And also huge shout out and thanks to those of you who have signed up to support the podcast and get our weekly top fives for writers. It's huge, we feel so grateful and excited that you guys want to support us, and want to be a part of it, and want to get our top fives, which we're having a great time doing. So you know, thanks to everyone for that. And if you're looking to do either of those things, head over to amwritingpodcast.com and you'll find all the links there.

Jess:                                     03:42                    Alright, let's do it. You said our topic is Facebook. What do you mean about this Facebook thing?

KJ:                                        03:54                    Well, it's a great place to put up pictures of your kids and offend all your relatives on your political views. But as a writer, people have questions like, 'Should you have an author page and a personal page? Should you do everything from your personal page? How has this evolved over the years? And I have wrestled with it. Sarina has come to some pretty good terms with it and I'll just also throw out there that back in 2013 when I started with the Times, they actually said to me, 'We do not want to create a Facebook page for the Motherlode blog, which doesn't exist anymore anyway. So just use your own. It was one of the best gifts that they gave me. I don't think it was actually the right choice for them, but well, and here and today I'm sitting here with no author page, but the AmWriting page and everything I do professionally ends up on my personal page and I'm not sure that's where I should be.

Jess:                                     05:01                    I'm a mess. Sarina, you go cause you've got a whole thing. You use it beautifully.

Sarina:                                 05:07                    Well, thank you. But we have to talk about vocabulary for a second. Because people have a profile, not a page. And we just want to be careful to use that vocabulary correctly because if listeners go and try to untangle our suggestions, they might run into a little trouble. So every person, like the way that we would define a person has the right under the Facebook terms of service, to have one profile. So, if you use a pseudonym for your writing, you may find yourself in the awkward position of trying to fake it to Facebook that you can have two profiles. And yeah, so that's a good time. But the profile is the main way that most people look at Facebook, you login with your profile. Now a page, you can have as many pages as you want. A page is meant to be representing something that's not a person. Like a brand or a business or it can be a person, like a personality. So I have a profile under Sarina White Bowen, it's three words. And then I have a Sarina Bowen page. And pages and profiles have different things that they can do, they're not identical in their functionality. And that's why we get into these tricky discussions because the way that pages and profiles behave is not identical and that's where some of the weird fun comes in.

Jess:                                     06:54                    Well and honestly that's where most of my apathy/confusion lies. Mainly because for me, my profile, Jessica Lahey. Actually, I think my profile is Jessica Potts Lahey because my maiden name is Potts. So that's my personal profile, the thing I originally signed up for Facebook with. That has long since gone out the window as a private, personal thing. Like I get 30 friend requests a day and I accept some and don't. But most of them are people I don't even know. I've just long since given up the ghost on that. But it is how I keep in touch with childhood friends and high school acquaintances and things like that. Then I also have a page as Jessica Lahey and that was something my publisher wanted and it was important to them. But see, here's the problem - if you're accepting any old person out there to your profile, and I'm posting things to my page and to my profile and honestly, there's a lot of overlap between the two. I wish I'd been more strategic about this from the beginning. And I somehow had a profile that was really just personal stuff and then shuttled everyone else over to my page, like put up kind of some kind of like, 'No, I will not friend you, but here's my page.' I wish I'd been more strategic about that, but I didn't and so now I have a mess. I have, two things, neither of which is personal, and both kind of get duplicate posts.

Sarina:                                 08:28                    Well, I could make you feel better by telling you that we're all in the same mess, honestly. Because Facebook has treated the two things differently over time. So, it used to be that in the glory days of 2010 you could make a page and even if you'd gotten this right from the very first day...

Jess:                                     08:53                    If I could have seen the future...

Sarina:                                 08:55                    Well, that's the thing. You would have still not been able to do it exactly right because the behavior that would have been optimized at the time would have changed. So back in the glory days, you could've made that page that you were just talking about and kept your profile private and you could have posted the things you were writing and thinking about it on this page and people would see it and they would interact with you and your page would grow, and grow, and grow. And you might have like 30,000 followers. However, Facebook has very much become a pay to play platform and now they would want you to pay every time you put up a post on your page that you wanted more than say 5% of your followers to see. So the fact that when you share meaningful things on your profile, at least there's some chance that the people who are connected to you will see it. So it's not entirely clear to me that you wouldn't be a very sad owner of a highly followed page by this point. But everybody who relies upon Facebook to push content into the world has been increasingly unhappy with their results because it's not just that Facebook wants your money (and they absolutely do want it), but also just the number of pages in the world grew at such an exponential rate that they can't actually show everybody all the stuff that they're following anymore. Like if you liked your dentist's office in 2013, then you know, the odds of you actually seeing a post from the dentist are really bad. Like the pages who you might actually see are the people who have been out there working it so hard since the very beginning, with a nice pace of content release, and a good interaction that...it's very few pages that are still getting that kind of play. You mentioned that you get a lot of friend requests. Facebook actually caps the number of friends you can have at 5,000.

Jess:                                     11:05                    Early on I think it was like 2000 or something. But yeah, it's definitely 5,000. I'm getting close and that worries me. Because what if someone I really want to follow, that's why I don't accept all of them or even real people...

KJ:                                        11:19                    People don't know you didn't accept them. And probably most of their goals is just to follow you, which is what happens if someone puts in a friend request and you say no, they end up following you.

Jess:                                     11:32                    That's right. Yeah, I forgot about that.

KJ:                                        11:35                    At least you've got that going for you.

Sarina:                                 11:36                    So, another factor is that now Messenger is tied in with the people you're friends with on Facebook. So I have stopped accepting friend requests completely, unless of course I met the person.

KJ:                                        11:51                    Unless it's your friend.

Sarina:                                 11:53                    Or, but I got some friend requests after that retreat we went to in Maine and I accepted those. But I don't accept random requests anymore because I've discovered it's just a way for readers to bug me. Like when is such and such a thing coming out and you know, there just aren't enough hours in the day for me to do a good job answering those messages.

Jess:                                     12:16                    Actually, I'm so glad you said that because that has been a source of anxiety and frustration for me in that the number of direct messages I'm getting via various apps has gone through the roof and it's a lot of people asking very personal questions about their own children. I got one the other day and she sent me this long, long, long message about what she's going through with her child. And she wrote the word please and she sent a picture of herself with her child.

KJ:                                        12:48                    I wish you could auto reply from Messenger. Because if you had that that said, 'I'm sorry, I can't...' I suppose you could just type one. Okay, we're going to get back to how everyone should use Facebook in a second, but just to solve this particular problem with which I am somewhat familiar, type something up, and imagine yourself as your assistant. 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Lahey can't respond to all.' And you know you're gonna feel like a jerk, but Mrs. Lahey can't respond personally to everyone and that leaves you the freedom to do it. To take a step back, we have people on our Facebook group page, which is a whole other thing, and is a great tool for various kinds of authors, particularly I think in nonfiction. Someone was saying, 'Here I am and my first book is coming out and should I create an author page?' And there are reasons to say yes to that, I think.

Sarina:                                 14:07                    Yes, there are. One of the reasons you might need an author page is if you want to advertise something, you can't advertise from a profile, you have to advertise from a page. So, the main reason that the Sarina Bowen author page continues to grow a following is because of paid advertising. And when you use paid advertising you collect likes sort of by accident. So you should never run the kind of ad that just gets likes because that's pointless. But if you have something to advertise like 'Look, this is my new book. Here is the link at Apple books.' Then that is something I advertise and the page does grow its following that way. So I would say that if you have even a 20% chance of ever wanting to advertise something, you should set up that author page. But then you should not obsess about how many followers it has. You should post only often enough so that it looks like the lights are on. And you don't need to worry about it. It needs to be set up so that there's somewhere people can find this kind of information, like the link to join your newsletter, and the link for your own personal webpage. So you need to be listed there because a lot of people will use Facebook as like a global directory. So you need to be find-able, but you do not need to obsess about how many people are following you there. So you can really put it as one of those things on your Sunday promo calendar where you're like, 'Oh, time to stop by the neighborhood of my Facebook page and maybe update something. You know, a book I'm reading or an article I put out this week.'

Jess:                                     16:05                    I use it for my speaking calendar, too. Like you know, 'Oh I'm going to be in the next week or month or whatever I'm going to be in so-and-so.' One thing I would like to add is that so early on in my promotion plan for Gift of Failure, my publisher very much wanted me to have a Facebook page because one of the things they did during my pub week was that I added my publisher as an administrator to my Facebook page and they posted a couple of ads. So that was wonderful and helpful.

KJ:                                        16:37                    That's really nice. I have not heard of a publisher doing that, which just means I haven't heard of it. I advertised my book personally a couple of times. But I actually did it from the #AmWriting page, I think, because we have a page and I don't remember if I have a page.

Jess:                                     17:00                    I think they did two or three ads just during pub week itself. And that was nice. They wanted to know as part of my original, the fact that I had one was what interested them. So I don't think they actually care that much about my followers. Who knows. Anyway, I want to make sure that was in there.

KJ:                                        17:22                    When you pay to place a Facebook ad from your page, that has nothing to do with how many followers your page has. It goes to that subset of people that you hopefully carefully create within the Facebook ad maker.

Sarina:                                 17:40                    That's right. The ad engine is a vast thing. There are entire podcasts about the Facebook ad engine. So, we won't cover that today but it does give you access to basically everyone on Facebook and Instagram.

Jess:                                     17:58                    And you can target very carefully and all that sort of thing?

Sarina:                                 18:00                    Yes, sort of carefully. But yes.

Jess:                                     18:03                    Okay. Anything else here?

Sarina:                                 18:06                    I do have a page and I do have a group, cause you mentioned groups, and groups are lovely and for a couple of reasons. One is that they gel with what Mark Zuckerberg claims to be his new idea for what Facebook should be, which is groups of like-minded people talking to each other. So I actually have a fan group on Facebook.

Jess:                                     18:41                    I belong and I love it. I love your fan group and it is so much fun to go in there and look at what's being posted. I love your fan group.

Sarina:                                 18:51                    It's called Sarendipity and I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having a fandom. I don't like to use the word fan, I'm not saying that I don't use it, but I don't really want to be that person. It's kind of like there's always a party that I'm hosting and I have to show up, you know. But what happens is that people tend to go there to talk about things that come up in my books and it really takes the pressure off of me. So in May, I had this book where one of the characters, who was known as lobster shorts, that was his avatar on an app. And one of the central conceits of the book is that the other person in the book doesn't know that lobster shorts is really his neighbor. So they have this whole conversation and I swear there are still people posting various lobster clothing in my group, you know, five months later I'm still seeing, look at this lobster shirt I found. So that's super fun because then the discussion doesn't have to be about whether or not you liked the book or what I'm having for lunch. It's like a commonality. This thing that we've all found funny and here's a little more of it. So my group is full of posts about apples because of one of my series.

Jess:                                     20:21                    Your group also, I have to say, there was one thread that was posted by one of your fans and it was a question and it was, 'How did you discover Sarina Bowen?' And it was one of the most and incredibly fascinating look at how readers find authors. Some of them were, 'I discovered her through Elle Kennedy, I was an Elle Kennedy reader.' Some were, 'Amazon recommended Sarina because I read X'. It was fascinating and it was a wealth of information about how people stumble upon new authors. I loved reading that thread.

Sarina:                                 20:56                    You're right, that was fascinating. But you also said that I didn't post it. There are lots of authors who do ask that question, who are able to ask questions about themselves without wanting to jump off something high. And, but I can't, it's just not me to do that. There's also other romance authors who posts like Towel Tuesday. And so on Tuesday there'll be some photo of a guy in a towel and the other romance readers are like, 'Ooh, good one.'

KJ:                                        21:23                    I thought it was going to be the author and a towel. That's brave.

Sarina:                                 21:29                    Well now you're really scaring me. That's not me either. And I really struggle with what is my role in that group. And there are so many ways to do it. And if you are a person, as an author, who is comfortable hosting that kind of party all the time, then the group is probably your greatest asset.

KJ:                                        21:54                    Alternatively, if you are a person who, as an author, wants to generally answer those kinds of questions that Jess is getting by Messenger, who has a nonfiction platform, which is self-help or that kind of thing you could create... Yeah. Ron Lieber does it really well, that's what you were going to say.

Jess:                                     22:26                    No, I was going to say Grown and Flown, Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, they do that incredibly well. They use those questions as fodder for posts on their massive, massive group for Grown and Flown.

KJ:                                        22:42                    Right, but they started out as a group and a blog and only later became a book. I guess what I'm saying is if you are Lori Gottlieb, or you, or Ron Lieber, you could use Facebook to start a group in which people discuss the topic of your book. But, I think that there would be a pretty high maintenance requirement there. I mean, at a certain point it would probably become somewhat self sustaining, but for a while I feel like it would be really demanding that you find and put up questions, and respond to things, and keep track. I think that'd be a pretty big time investment, but it might be a worthwhile one.

Jess:                                     23:30                    It would be a big investment.

KJ:                                        23:31                    I'm not suggesting you do it, this is a general. Let me just say, I don't think that's you, you need to write books. But there might be people for whom it would be a great strategy. For example, the author of Quiet, Susan Cain has said, 'I thought about writing another book and then I realized, no, my mission is to keep talking about this one.' She does it in a different forum. But if that's where you are, if your mission for the next few years is to talk about the topic of your nonfiction probably. Then that could be good.

Jess:                                     24:15                    As a speaker, I have to say, reader questions are incredible fodder for either articles, new chapters, blog posts, things to talk about on stage. I have this sort of wealth of stories and many of them came from readers who wrote me, or posted, or messaged, or whatever and said, 'Here's what's going on and here's how I've used the things you wrote about.' So that can be an incredibly valuable thing and if you want to mine that for all it's worth, a little bit of effort could pay off big time.

KJ:                                        24:47                    Right. All right, so we got the basics. You've probably already got your profile. Certainly there's no one in our Facebook group asking questions about how to use Facebook that doesn't already have a profile. You're gonna need a page, but you don't need to do anything more there besides keep the lights on. You could contemplate a group, you need to think about how you use Messenger, and what else? What am I missing in terms of the basics?

Sarina:                                 25:14                    Well, we definitely covered the basics, but I could give you a couple of ninja level things. So my page has an auto-responder that is hosted by a service called ManyChat. So if you go to the Sarina Bowen page and you hit the button there to send a message, you will immediately get a reply from a bot and it says something like, 'Hello. And then insert first name of person. Thank you for reaching out. The best place to find information about upcoming Sarina Bowen books is this link right here.'

Jess:                                     26:09                    Brilliant.

KJ:                                        26:13                    That's for Messenger messages or posts

Sarina:                                 26:17                    Messenger, but it's Messenger to the page, not the profile. So it also says, 'And if you are a man who just wants to chat or show me your photo, you will not like my response.'

KJ:                                        26:35                    Even if you're wearing a towel. Especially if you're wearing a towel.

Jess:                                     26:39                    I do like that when I get messages like that, like gross, disgusting, stuff like that. Often for example, in Instagram it will shield it from your view. And so in order to see whatever picture someone has sent you, you have to actually click on it. And I have decided not to click on a few things that I receive via the messaging part of Instagram.

Sarina:                                 27:05                    Weirdly, the what to blur out trigger is really strange, though. Because I click on them all the time and it's usually like just a photo of a book on a table and it's like my book, you know. So that's one thing that you can hook up. Now, this is the ninja super top secret thing is that also ManyChat, will collect the identities of everyone who ever messages you.

Jess:                                     27:34                    To what end, Sarina? To what end?

Sarina:                                 27:40                    I will tell you. A page can also always message whomever has messaged the page before. So if you run a contest where to enter the contest, you send the page a message, then ManyChat can retain that list of hundreds of people and then randomly messaged them when you decide. So I could right now just blanket message, all the whatever thousand people who've ever messaged my page before with, 'Hey, guess what? I have a new book.'.

Jess:                                     28:16                    Oh my gosh, you're so brilliant.

Sarina:                                 28:17                    I don't actually use it, though. Because I find that people are very confused about whether I'm messaging them personally this way. Like it's not common enough a thing to break down that wall. And I don't actually want people to think that I'm messaging them. So, it's not a useful tool for me, but it does exist. And the other Ninja level thing is about the page itself and how nobody sees them anymore. So I do keep track. My page has either 14 or 17,000 followers. I can't remember right now. And the average post is seen by like 1200 people. So it's less than 10%. But if I didn't do certain things, then it would drop even further because the Facebook algorithm looks carefully at each post to decide if it's going to love you or not. So if you're always posting Amazon links then it hates that. But if you're always posting to your own website, it hates that less. And if you're posting text with no links or pictures at all, it loves that because that seems really genuine to Facebook. Like if you just have a haiku to share or something.

Jess:                                     29:53                    Is that why people started doing that thing where they started posting in the first comment instead of in the post itself?

Sarina:                                 29:59                    The link? Yeah, the link in the comments. Yeah. I'm not sure. I think Facebook caught onto that immediately, though.

KJ:                                        30:05                    So, interesting, completely random side note, Facebook doesn't want you to sell animals anymore. And of course Facebook is actually the largest place to advertise horses. So our barn manager, I just turned her on to go ahead and put a picture, but you put the link or you put the ad in the comments. Because if you put an ad they throw it off and it's got to do with puppy mills and that kind of thing, which I'm totally supportive of. But Facebook killed all the sites upon which people once sold horses and they have not yet been replaced with anything. And it's a problem. But, that does still work to some extent I think. The link in the comments.

Sarina:                                 30:57                    Okay, well this is how I handle it. A page can also have what are called top fans. That is Facebook's word for it. So if you turn this feature on to your page, you might have to have a certain number of followers, I don't know what it is. You turn on the top fan badge and then Facebook will actually track for you who it considers to be your top fans. I believe I have, I don't know, a couple hundred of them. And top fan badges are earned by commenting on things and liking things. So I actually run a giveaway like once a month we pick a random top fan and they get to have a prize of their choosing and the prizes are a signed book shipped anywhere, an item from the Sarina Bowen swag store, or a bad, but flattering poem in your honor.

Jess:                                     31:56                    While we're on the topic and because I have helped you with some of this in the past and I have had to deal with it myself, when you run these sorts of things and you say shipped anywhere, just keep in mind how much it costs to ship to Australia. Just keep it in mind. Just think about it when you do it.

KJ:                                        32:14                    There's a reason people do U.S. only and apologies to those who can't participate, but whoa.

Sarina:                                 32:23                    Yeah, one book to Australia is $22.50 and yesterday I shipped a box to France for $57 50. Ouch., right?

KJ:                                        32:35                    Groups have a similar thing to the top fan, which is the conversation starters.

Jess:                                     32:40                    Yeah, I love that. And there's also like a visual storyteller. We have it in our group and, according to our group, I'm an administrator, but I'm also a visual storyteller because I post a lot of pictures to our group.

KJ:                                        32:53                    Well, no prizes for you. I'm sorry.

Sarina:                                 32:55                    Well, the point of giving prizes to top fans is to give an incentive to comment. If you were to go look at my page right now (and I have no idea what the last thing we posted), but you'll see like 'Can't wait' and just people chiming in and the chiming in tells the Facebook algorithm that that piece of content is valuable or interesting. So Facebook will give it a little more love. I mean there are days when it feels like my entire job is to try to outwit the Facebook algorithm and not everybody needs to think like this or operate like this, but it's quite the rabbit hole.

Jess:                                     33:37                    Well, and we've talked about this in the past, is that certain social media platforms are great for certain things. And for me it's Twitter and for you it's Facebook. And we've talked about this in the past and partially it's a self-perpetuating thing. But when Sarina goes on my webpage (which I let her do from time to time and look at where my traffic's coming from) you know, mine's coming from Twitter and hers overwhelmingly comes from Facebook. So if you know that the genre that you write in is Facebook oriented, then this is really helpful information. For me, I'm trying to figure out how to best use Facebook. And it may be different for nonfiction authors, but I think when you know that that's where your fans are it's worth spending a little bit extra time and effort, as you do, to engage that audience. It's all about decision making.

Sarina:                                 34:27                    And in order to remove some of the emotion from it. So yesterday I got very depressed because I have a book launch coming up and I realized just how much I hate launching. Like it's a kind of a popularity contest that I don't really want to enter. I don't enjoy that week of share me, share me, love me, buy me. So one of the ways that I get around this is that every two months I take note of where the growth in my social media following is happening. So I'll just note the totals of how many followers are on the page, how many people in the group, how many on Instagram, how many on BookBub and how many on my newsletter list. Not because I'm obsessed with the totals, but because I want to know which thing is growing the fastest?

KJ:                                        35:23                    Where should you invest your time?

Sarina:                                 35:25                    Right? Where is the heat? So that I don't obsess about my Facebook page if that's not obsessable this week.

KJ:                                        35:34                    Well, my loose take on what Facebook is good for is nonfiction of the kind that I have written and that Jess writes, parenting stuff, family oriented stuff, self-help style stuff. Basically, probably nonfiction with more of a female audience. I don't know what I mean, Facebook is definitely both genders. Does it skew female? Do we know?

Jess:                                     36:07                    I don't know, but I do know that parenting stuff, at least from my perspective, does incredibly well on Facebook. And then the added bonus is that some of the outfits I write for like the New York Times and the Atlantic and Washington Post have very active Facebook pages. And when they post my stuff to Facebook, holy moly, the shares for those articles go through the roof. And then of course other Facebook pages pick up those articles. And I'm very lucky in that some of my more evergreen content the Atlantic will repost from time to time, thus revitalizing an article I wrote four years ago, which is lovely. Yeah. So from that perspective it's really useful.

KJ:                                        36:47                    Well, I often think of it is Twitter for serious nonfiction, Facebook for lighter nonfiction, Instagram for fiction. But I think that is just a gross, gross oversimplification as evidenced by the fact that Sarina makes a really good use of Facebook. And Facebook's ads for fiction, especially independently published fiction, are kind of I think without parallel. And there's no barrier to entry like there is on Instagram. You can't advertise on Instagram. You can't even link on Instagram. You can't advertise either, can you? Am I right, Sarina?

Sarina:                                 37:23                    You could advertise on Instagram.

KJ:                                        37:25                    Oh you can still advertise, okay. Alright, fine. Well, this is good. Okay.

Jess:                                     37:31                    This is really helpful.

KJ:                                        37:32                    We've laid out some useful basics, given me some ideas. I hope we've given some of the rest of you guys ideas. Oh my gosh. Books.

Jess:                                     37:56                    Yeah, do we want to talk about what we've been reading? I have a new author that I've recently discovered that's fun to read. You know there are certain really popular authors that are sort of are in the periphery of your awareness and yet you never actually listened to them. I finally listened to a Harlan Coben book recently. So I listened to Harlan Coben because a narrator that I really, really enjoy - Steven Weber, he played one half of the duo on the show Wings in the 80s, and he's still out there doing some great stuff. He's an audio book narrator and I happen to love his audio narration voice. You can click not only on authors in a lot of apps, but you can click on the narrator, too. So if you really like a narrator, try other things they've narrated. And that's what I did. And I've been listening to a Harlan Coben book. I listened to one called Home that was kind of interesting, but now I'm listening to one called Run Away (it's two separate words). I think it's his newest one. The opening was so beautifully done - and what's really fun about Harlan Coben is that he's funny without trying to be comic. Like he's just a witty writer and it's really fun in a way that I don't get to read a lot. And so he's highly prolific. There's tons out there. He has series. He has stand alones and so it's nice to have a new author to be able to dip into and learn new things from. So that's Harlan Coben Run Away so far I'm loving it. Home was really, really interesting. I like that one, too.

Sarina:                                 39:32                    Well, Jess, I love Harlan Coben. And there's a lot to learn there, also. One of his novels (my favorite one) was made into a movie in French.

Jess:                                     39:49                    What's the book?

Sarina:                                 39:51                    I'm trying to figure that out right now. Tell No One. It's a wonderful novel.

Jess:                                     39:56                    I actually originally heard about him because Stephen King talks about him a lot. I think they're buds or something or he just really likes his work, but I just never occurred to me to listen to any of his books or read any of his books. But I'm glad I am.

Sarina:                                 40:13                    Yeah. So Tell No One, it's a great read and it's a lovely movie where they've changed in New York to Paris and you know, enjoy. The book I'm reading is Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. It's a wonderful novel that is actually fantasy. I'm probably mis-genre-ing this novel right now. There's magic in it, but I swear this book it's probably going to do great, but it's like written just for me. It takes place in New Haven and on the Yale campus and it supposes that the secret societies are actually each the holder of a special kind of magic. It's hilarious and I have so many questions about - they basically didn't bother changing the names of anything. They just went for it. And I'm fascinated.

KJ:                                        41:17                    I love that. And yeah, there was just something on our Facebook page someone going, 'Should I use a real town? Should I slightly change the town?' And I think that is always an interesting question because we're all sort of asking ourselves, 'Well, do I have permission to use all the names of the secret societies at Yale? Do I need permission? Is there a secret society that will come after me if I failed to ask permission?' Yeah, that's really cool. It sounds like a fun book, too. Oh, mine. So two weeks ago, I think, I shouted out The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal. And I also (because I loved The Lager Queen so much) grabbed his first book, which is Kitchens of the Great Midwest and similarly, it's a lot of fun.

KJ:                                        42:08                    It's smart fiction. It's very, very readable. And this is a fun example of something else we were talking about two weeks ago, which is following an author throughout their career. Now, J. Ryan Stradal (who is a man, at least based on his author picture) only has two books. And Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the first one and The Lager Queen is the second one. And Kitchens of the Great Midwest is good, I really enjoyed it. Lager Queen is better in a lot of technical, and also just sort of reader grabbing kinds of ways, and that is just fun to see. It's fun to watch people evolve, but they're both really fun books.

Jess:                                     42:49                    Cool, excellent.

KJ:                                        42:52                    Bookstore? I know we have a favorite Indie because we talked about it.

Jess:                                     42:52                    Yes, we do. We did. We would like to talk about Gibsons. Gibsons is a bookstore in New Hampshire, in Concord, New Hampshire. And for me, it holds a place in my heart because it was one of the places I first spoke about Gift of Failure to an audience (unfortunately it was pouring rain that night) to an audience of I believe four. Two people who had come for the book talk and one person who was trying to get out of the rain and had no idea what they were doing there and a staff member of the bookstore. So despite that, is a fantastic bookstore. I love it there. They have great curation. I think, Sarina, you talked about really enjoying that bookstore, too.

Sarina:                                 43:37                    I also did an event. For my, the women's fiction novel failure that we don't talk about anymore.

Jess:                                     43:46                    And did you have more than four people?

Sarina:                                 43:47                    I had 12. Well, for debut fiction it wasn't bad at all. It was a lovely, engaged audience. And the staff is so lovely and I've been to other's events there as well and they always just do a fabulous job.

Jess:                                     44:32                    I have to get back to writing. And so until next week, everybody, keep your butts in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

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Nov 01 2019

45mins

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101: #SerialWriting

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...in which Jess and KJ are again joined by Sarina Bowen as she details the particular particulars an author faces when she decides to write serially.

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Apr 06 2018

42mins

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148: #GreenEyedMonster

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Omitting wan words to tighten your writing, and battling the inevitable arrival of professional jealousy.

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Mar 01 2019

35mins

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3: #AmOverwhelmed, Killing Other People’s Darlings and Timing Pitches

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…in which KJ struggles with killing other people’s darlings and Jess waxes rhapsodic about audiobooks. #amwriting #ampitching #amprocrastinating

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Apr 23 2016

31mins

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Episode 182 #WriteFlailRepeat

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Novelist Abbi Waxman makes us laugh talking process and inspiration almost as much as we do when reading her books, with emphasis on using settings you know and love.

Our transcription assistant reports that this was “her favorite episode ever.” It’s definitely a contender—Abbi Waxman is funny and candid about the challenges of creating characters and worlds that are engrossingly real yet also comical—and about her next novel, the first one not fully set in her California ‘hood.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, you don’t want to miss the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, October 28, 2019: Top 5 Goodreads Secrets for Authors. It’s a good one! If you haven’t yet plunked down a tiny chunk of cash to support the podcast, maybe now is the time. Support the podcast you love AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Abbi: A Miss Silver Mystery: Lonesome Road (#3), Patricia Wentworth

Jess: Home, Run Away, Harlan Coben

KJ: Confessions of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell

Three Things You Need to Know about Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Romance, Jessica A. Fox

The Gyrth Chalice Mystery, Margery Allingham

#FaveIndieBookstore

Chevalier’s Books Los Angeles, CA — if you’ve read Nina Hill, this is the real life bookstore she works in, and we love that.

Our guest for this episode is Abbi Waxman. Abbi is the author of:

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Other People’s Houses

The Garden of Small Beginnings

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful—and, this time around, Jess is “New Speaker.” We don’t know why. AI is mysterious.)

KJ:                                        00:01                    Hey writers—you all know we love our sponsor, Author Accelerator, which offers intense book coaching to help writers keep their butts in the chair and their heads in the game and finish what we start. But what if you’re not ready for full on coaching? What if you’re still trying to figure out where your story or memoir is going, and you need help? In that case, Author Accelerator has something new: the four-week Inside Outline Coaching program, which will help you quickly and efficiently visualize your entire story, spot the holes and places where your characters have lost momentum and ensure that you’re working forward with a structure that will support the story you want to tell. I love this tool, and working with someone to stick to it and get it right is going to save you a lot of time and a lot of typing. Find out more at https://www.authoraccelerator.com/insideoutline.

New Speaker:                    00:01                    Go ahead.

KJ:                                        00:01                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing.

New Speaker:                    00:01                    All right, let's start over.

KJ:                                        00:01                    Awkward pause, I'm going to rustle some papers.

New Speaker:                    00:01                    Okay.

KJ:                                        00:01                    Now one, two, three. Hey, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting. The podcast about writing, which is pretty much why we named it that. We are a podcast about writing all things - fictional, non-fictional, proposals, pitches, writing emails in the quest to get an agent, and I've run out of my list, but it's one I give you guys weekly and as I hope you know, we are the podcast about sitting down and getting your work done.

New Speaker:                    01:50                    And I'm Jess Lahey. I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a book I just turned in on preventing substance abuse in kids. And you can find me at the New York Times, and the Atlantic, and the Washington Post .

KJ:                                        02:03                    You're killing it. This actually is your due date and I'm so delighted.

New Speaker:                    02:08                    I'm a little bit giddy today.

KJ:                                        02:11                    You should be. I am KJ Dell'Antonia, author of a novel coming out next year, The Chicken Sisters, and of How To Be a Happier Parent, former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times, where I'm still a reasonably regular contributor, and at the moment working on novel number two. And I am delighted to say that we have a guest today. So before I introduce her, since she's sitting there silently, I will just say, 'Hi Abby.'

Abbi:                                    02:39                    I wasn't sure if I should be making little chicken noises in the background. It's probably a good idea for me to sit excitedly until prompted.

KJ:                                        02:55                    Abbi is the author of three novels, all of which I've totally enjoyed and I believe have recommended at one point or another on the podcast. They are - I'll go in backwards order - her most recent novel is The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, preceded by Other People's Houses. And then, gosh, there ought to be another word for this - preceded by The Garden of Small Beginnings. I would call them comic, commercial fiction, with plenty of snark and a little tiny touch of the darkness of life, and our huge fun. And we're so glad to have you.

Abbi:                                    03:36                    It is my pleasure to be here.

KJ:                                        03:38                    Thank you.

New Speaker:                    03:41                    I have to say, she's been so excited to talk to you. So the fact that she's just overflowing with questions...

KJ:                                        03:52                    I've really enjoyed The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. And I want to go back and talk about - I guess what we like to do when we have a guest is go just a little bit back into your career. A lot of our listeners are somewhere sort of mid-career, a lot of them are just getting started, and everybody wants to know things like - how did you get started? I know that you were in advertising, so I think my question is what's the first thing you wrote that wasn't advertising that you got paid for?

Abbi:                                    04:27                    So yeah, I worked in advertising for a long time. But I always knew that I wanted to write books, ultimately. But that's because that's what I saw growing up. My mother was a murder mystery writer. My biological dad was also in advertising. My stepfather was not a writer, so this is just what I saw grown ups doing a lot of the time and certainly that's what I thought mothers did. So, I had a career, I had my own agency for a while ,and then I decided I wanted to quit that, write books, and have children. Which those two things are inextricably linked in my head. The problem being, of course, having children is a hundred percent contra-indicated if what you're trying to do is actually get work done. So it took me a very long time to write my first novel and then subsequent ones were much quicker because I didn't have three kids under five in the house. But while I had those three small kids and I wasn't being super successful at finishing my own work, I got hired to ghost write a novel for a celebrity, who shall remain nameless.

KJ:                                        05:36                    And that's always such a bummer, but we know that's the way it works.

Abbi:                                    05:39                    That's the way it works. So I wrote a novel, a piece of fiction for this person and my name wasn't on the cover, but it was on the check and that's all I really actually care about. So that was good. Not that all I care about is money, far be it for me to suggest I am just venal in that way, but I do enjoy making money for my work. Because I did it for free for so long that it is still very pleasant to get paid for it.

KJ:                                        06:08                    I'm impressed that it was a whole novel.

Abbi:                                    06:11                    Well, before I wrote that one, I had written several novels that were too crap to see the light of day. So finishing a novel was a sort of a barrier I'd already cracked. Finishing a good novel was one that you could argue I haven't yet cracked, but which I'm working on.

KJ:                                        06:29                    We will not argue that. How did you convince a celebrity and a publishing company that you could do the novel for the celebrity?

Abbi:                                    06:40                    You know, it's a mystery, to this day. So I have a friend whose name is Hillary Liftin, who is a very successful ghost writer of both (she writes fiction herself and she writes nonfiction books with celebrities) and she's written dozens of them and she's really, really good at it. And she recommended me to an agent who approached her about writing this piece of fiction. And she said, 'No, no, but you should have my friend Abbi do it.' I don't even remember writing a proposal. So I had to go and meet - there's actually a good story attached to this, but I don't know if I can tell it without revealing it. So I went to meet with this celebrity, along with several other writers (not at the same time, although that would have been hilarious), but one after the other. And she had us meet her at Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, which is just just right there. I was so happy to even be doing this because it was so ludicrous. It is so incredibly Hollywood and I was just like, it's ridiculous. So I show up wearing my jeans, my Target T-shirt, and the one cool jacket that I possessed and could still fit into. Cause I worked hard on gaining weight after I had my kids and I was very successful at it. And so I squeezed into these clothes, I go in, the first thing she says to me (she's tiny, tiny little celebrity as they all are all) 'Oh, I love your T-shirt.' And I said, 'I got it at Target.' So literally that was my opening - I got it at Target, which you think would be enough to end the whole thing. And so she arrived. She walks in just before I get there, I see her walk in and she literally asks whatever you call the person at Chateau Marmont who's in charge of helping celebrities deal with their lives, She's like, 'I need breakfast cereal.' And he sent someone out to shop for breakfast cereal for her so that she could have (I nearly swore) Captain Crunch at like 11 o'clock on a whatever day it at the Chateau.

New Speaker:                    08:57                    That's really impressive. I actually was going to tell you the last time I got a compliment from a celebrity, I actually said, 'I got it at a garage sale.' And it was about an article of clothing, so I can actually one up on that one. Yeah, it came out of my mouth and I said, 'Oh, that, that wasn't what I meant to say.'

Abbi:                                    09:19                    But at the same time, you know, I don't know, do celebrities shop at Target? I'm sure they do, everybody shops at Target, everybody shops at garage sales. I would feel much worse saying, 'Yes, it's Gucci.' Like that would not fly. So, you know, it is what it is. So anyways, so she interviewed me and a load of other people, and the funny part is that I didn't hear anything for weeks. So I was like, 'Okay, whatever.' Then I get a call that she had told her manager who was sitting there that she wanted this other person whose name I won't say, but she got on the phone with this other writer and then 15 minutes into the conversation she suddenly goes, 'Oh wait, I have to go.' and hung up on this other writer. Because it turned out she didn't want that writer, she wanted me, but she had mixed us up. I imagine she said, 'The English one.' But this other writer was also English. So this poor woman (who it turns out also knows Hilary Liftin, my friend) was like, 'Yeah, it was the weirdest thing. We were talking and all of a sudden she's like, 'Sorry, my shoes are on fire.' and hung up on me and I never heard another word because of course she didn't have the balls to actually say, 'Oh my God, I've made a terrible mistake. I do apologize.'

KJ:                                        11:06                    Celebrities, they're just like us, only ruder.

Abbi:                                    11:20                    So then I met with her, we talked about her ideas for the book, and then I wrote it in six weeks. So there you go.

KJ:                                        11:28                    And from there - straight into your own novels or were there any pit stops along the way?

Abbi:                                    11:34                    I started doing a second novel for her and she wasn't happy with what I had done, and I had already done quite a bit, so my agent was like, 'Okay, well she'll start over, but of course it will cost you more money.' And she's like, 'Well, I don't want to pay any more money.' And I said, 'Then I don't want to write any more words.' And so that's how that happened. And so then The Garden of Small Beginnings got written and that agent and I came to a parting of the ways, cause we had a different point of views on what should happen with the book. And then I actually put that book away for a year or two and tried to write screenplays and get involved with TV, had minor, minor encouragement in that direction, which then didn't come to pass. And so I was like blow this, I'm going back to writing books where the only a*e I have to deal with this is myself. And so that's what I did. And then I got a new agent, a wonderful agent who agreed with me about the book. And the rest is history.

KJ:                                        12:39                    Same agent, all three books?

Abbi:                                    12:40                    Same agent, all three books, and the fourth which I just handed in and two more that I'm on the hook for. So I have two more to go.

KJ:                                        12:48                    When's the fourth one coming out?

Abbi:                                    12:49                    Presumably next spring/summer.

KJ:                                        12:52                    Ah, excellent, we shall be together.

Abbi:                                    12:55                    Well at the moment, I still think it's a piece of s
t. So that is always what happens. I'm like, 'This is it. My career is over. Every time.'

KJ:                                        13:07                    You don't feel like you're getting better? So I read them in this order: first, The Garden of Small Beginnings (because I read that one I suspect right around when it came out), then, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (obviously sometime later), then back to Other People's Houses. I mean, they were all extremely fun and there's something in particular I want to ask you about, but I would say you're definitely building skill. You're not feeling that?

Abbi:                                    13:36                    No, I do feel that. I feel like every time I write something it's better than what I've written before. But what I'm not building in is necessarily confidence about it once when it's too close. So when I had it in Nina, I was like, 'It's a piece of crap.' And then by the time it came out and I went back and looked at it again, I was like, 'Oh. No, it's all right. It's all right.' And there were even bits, you know, when you read something that you're like, 'Wow, that's really good. I have no idea who wrote that part because I don't remember writing that part.' You know, there are more of those each time. So that I guess is good. But I find that the gap between what it's going to be in my head and what it ends up on paper, that doesn't seem to get a great deal smaller. I'm always a little bit like, 'That was not what I was really going for and part of the time it's because I'm not capable of doing what I think I can do. And part of it is just that the writing process itself changes the nature of the idea. Right? Like different things come out on paper and you follow that direction and it's not quite what you had in mind originally, but you know, it's still better than ice fishing.'.

New Speaker:                    14:44                    It's the same for nonfiction. Nonfiction works the same, I always quote Mary Roach. You know, I usually have an idea about something I'd like to research and possibly write about. And then Mary Roach refers to this period of time as a 'research flail' that she flails about in the research for a couple of months and then figures out what the book might be and that gap is always really hard for me cause you have to take that leap of faith that words will end up on the page on the other side. So definitely, nonfiction and fiction seem to have that similarity to them.

Abbi:                                    15:19                    Yeah. I mean I think any large project, even if it's not writing, like you build a house, or you have a child and you have this idea of what it's going to be. But then the actual everyday practicalities of creating something change the nature of the finished product itself.

New Speaker:                    15:38                    Yeah, absolutely.

Abbi:                                    15:52                    You know, the book itself (this is going to sound ridiculous), but the book itself has sort of an influence, you know what I mean? Like it takes on a life of its own and the characters do what the characters do. And so you just have to sort of trail along.

KJ:                                        16:19                    So what is your process around that? Sarina who isn't with us today and I, and now Jess, who's gonna go in for some fiction next, have been talking a lot about what we plan ahead of time, what we don't plan ahead of time. It seems to vary a little bit. What's your process look like?

Abbi:                                    16:40                    It's cracked.

KJ:                                        16:41                    You'd recommend it then?

Abbi:                                    16:44                    I am writing a book about it now because it really needs to be down on paper. No, it's terrible. My process is that I have an idea about, that's usually a character idea or a situation. So for example, the book I just wrote that I just finished, which at the moment is called Mothers, Daughters, and Unexpected Outcomes, which is a title that was sort of arrived at by a huge number of people.

KJ:                                        17:12                    Oh, good. Titling by committee.

Abbi:                                    17:14                    But I'm sure it's a great title. It's gonna be great. Anyway, the point is - that book was inspired by my real life experience that I know we all share, of that moment where you realize that the child you've been raising for the past 13, 14 years has suddenly turned into a totally different person and all the skills that you've gathered raising that child up until that point are completely useless. So you have to sort of come up with a whole new way of trying to relate to this person, who is now a different person, and who you respect and love, but who is deeply freaking irritating and annoying and bumptious and narcissistic and...

KJ:                                        17:57                    And knows where all your buttons are. And still hesitates not to press them.

Abbi:                                    18:03                    No, leans on them in fact. So that's what this book is about. So my process was, I want to write about the period I'm in right now. And the situation I set up was the woman and her teenage daughter are taking a college tour. So that was the structure of the book. I'm going to take them away from home, they're going to be on their own together with another group of parents taking this group college tour up the East coast. So that gave me my structure and then I just have at it. So what usually happens is, I write the first 10 - 15,000 words in a froth of excitement and confidence. Then I come up against whatever the floor in my original idea was and flail around flailing big, an excellent word for the process. Flail around and freak out and panic and that panic period lasts usually a week or two. Then I write everything. I've got down so far on index cards and stick them up on a noticeboard and stare at them for a while. Then I decided to work out what the next 10,000 words are going to do. I work that out, I write those, then I panic. Do it again, rinse and repeat. So that's basically my processes. Write a chunk, freak out, write it down, look at it, try and come up with what the next bit is going to be, write that, it changes, panic. It's lurching, it's sort of like the progress of a drunk person trying to get home. I lurched from lamppost to lamppost and then eventually I get there. It's good, right? You like it, right? You feel inspired, right?

KJ:                                        19:38                    Yeah. I think you should patent it because it works really well.

Abbi:                                    19:42                    The panicky lamppost process.

KJ:                                        19:45                    So, it sounds like you start from an emotion. Like a mental place where your people are, kind of. But one of the things that really strikes me about your books is that your people are always very much in a really defined physical place. And I don't mean like, I know that the bookstore has blue walls. I mean, it's almost like workplace fiction. Like The Garden of Small Beginnings had this very strong, not just gardened theme, but this sort of teaching, the placement of the garden and the thing the person was doing. And then Other People's Houses had that neighborhood setting. And it was a really distinct California neighborhood. And then The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, same sort of city bookstore.

Abbi:                                    20:36                    Same neighborhood. All three of the first three books are all set in the same neighborhood.

KJ:                                        20:40                    Yeah. I thought so, but it's not the neighborhood so much as they all have such a really strong setting for the action. And I wondered when that comes into play. Well, and you're leaving that too, if they're all heading out.

Abbi:                                    21:04                    Oh no, that's why this next one is a piece of crap. So, here's the thing. I struggle with structure. I feel like that's my weakness as a writer. I think I'm good at characters, I like writing dialogue, but I really struggle with plot and structure. And so in order to try and help myself, you will notice I always create this structure, this sort of artificial structure that I then lean on. So, in The Garden of Small Beginnings, she was taking a gardening course. I was able to break up the book by these lessons, right? So it sort of gives me a calendar and a structure to cling to. And then I separated each section. So each lesson, each class, was sort of a break, and then there would be another set of action as a result. The second one, Other People's Houses, she had to take the kids to school every day, right? So she was carpooling these kids to school and the sort of going from house to house gave me the structure I wanted. And then Nina, she had a planner, right? The action of the book takes place over a number of weeks during the summer. And so that gives me the structure and so then I can sort of cling and we're back to lampposts again. Then I can cling to the structure and move the story along sort of forcibly. And that's just my anxious cheater's way of giving the book some kind of structure because I feel like my plots aren't strong enough. Very little happens in my books, like they are not plot-driven because I'm not really interested in that. I love reading it, and I admire it in other writers, but I'm not very good at it myself. And I'm much more interested in the action that's going on between your ears as you drive your kids to school each day than I am in how you actually got to school because that's what's interesting to me.

KJ:                                        23:00                    That is funny that you would say that because I would say the same thing about what I write. And I've always felt it as sort of a flaw, but I would not have said it about your work as a reader. I see your point, nothing blows up. Although in Other People's Houses, it kind of does. That one's got a pretty clear plot high point. I feel like that whole plot driven structure thing is a very masculine way of looking at book structure.

New Speaker:                    23:41                    Right. I agree.

KJ:                                        23:43                    It's very external.

Abbi:                                    23:44                    It is very external, and I'm not interested in external stuff. I'm much more interested in relationships between people, conversations that you have in the normal course of the day, the small conversations you have with strangers, and the gap between what you're thinking and what you're saying, and also the gap between what you are presenting and what is really going on. The gap between your inside and your outside. That's what interests me as a person, as a human being. And so that's what I tend to write about. And then I tried to write about kids and dogs because I like kids and dogs.

KJ:                                        24:18                    Now how about the funny? Your books are funny. Especially Nina Hill. I mean, I think I laughed out loud multiple times at the end as they're sort of lurching around. It had that fun, tastic, caper feel. Do you feel that when you're writing it, do you plan it? How do you make that happen? Come on, give us the secret.

Abbi:                                    24:57                    Well, as you can tell from talking to me, I am just naturally a laugh riot and a charismatic maelstrom of humor. And so, it just comes out that way. No, I just can't take everything very seriously. And so when I'm writing I just can't take it seriously. I've tried writing serious books and I fail. I could just can't do it because I think most things are funny. Most things are ridiculous. Life is just a series of ridiculous predicaments. And so that's what I tend to write about.

KJ:                                        25:34                    And you do it very well.

Abbi:                                    25:36                    That's very kind of you to say.

KJ:                                        25:39                    So you were talking earlier about novels in the drawer. I think all of us would love to know how many it took you to get to the point where you could get one out.

Abbi:                                    25:50                    Okay. So I wrote two complete novels that were st. And I also wrote probably three movie screenplays that were crap and a TV pilot that nearly got made. So that I guess was marginally better. And which is now going to be the basis of the book I'm writing next. Yeah, so several. The very first one I wrote, I literally threw away. Like, I don't have it anymore. It was written 17 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child and it was pretty poor. And so I threw that one away completely. The second one I kept in a drawer. Well, not really a drawer but you know a folder on the desktop. And I tend to keep everything because I have many, many starts as well. As I said before, I seem to be able to write 12 to 15,000 words.

KJ:                                        26:52                    I was going to ask you how many of those sort of frothy beginnings - cause that's the hard part for a lot of writers is getting paid. So many people have like a really polished first three chapters or a lot of really enthusiastic bursty first three chapters. But it's, it's sitting down and going, okay, I'm gonna make this work. Do you have anything to say about the first time you managed to bring that off? Did someone lock you in a room?

Abbi:                                    27:25                    I was pregnant and bored and this was before the internet was really as interesting as it is now. So I didn't really have much to do. It was after September 11th I was pregnant with Julia, my eldest. We were in New York when September 11th happened. And then we went and lived with a friend in Berkeley for six weeks. And it was during that period of time that I finished the first piece of crap. I don't know, I think that's where being a professional comes in. Is that you can't just write the parts that are fun and easy. You have to just keep writing. I write every day. Often I say I write every day, I want to write every day, and I set out to write every day. But because of life, often I end up taking someone to the dentist or picking up groceries. So life trumps my work in a way that I think sometimes is something that women suffer from more than men. Not because of any inherent sexism, God forbid that there was any suggestion that there is any institutionalized sexism at work. It does appear to be a kind of expectation, that apparently I've bought into, that if some little child needs to go to the doctor, it's me that does it. So, work gets trumped all the time. But less and less as my kids get older and less and less as I get more bolshy. And so, I go and work every day, ideally. And you just keep plugging along.

KJ:                                        29:02                    But you were able to tell yourself this is what professionals do. It sounds like - before anyone was telling you that with a paycheck.

Abbi:                                    29:10                    Oh yeah.

KJ:                                        29:10                    That's hard for a lot of people.

Abbi:                                    29:11                    Bear in mind, I worked as a writer in advertising. So I was getting paid to write for decade and a half. So putting words on paper and getting a paycheck was something that I'd always done. And so I treated it that way. And advertising is also a great training for writers because you get used to throwing your work away and you get used to starting over. Like over and over and over and over again. And usually you work relatively hard on something and then someone will s
t all over it and you're like, 'Okay.' And you tear it up and start over. And after a while, that becomes just part of the process, and that's why it's such good training. Like journalism, like any career where you're basically selling words and other people, who haven't written them, have power to buy or sell them. So yeah, you get used to not caring so much and at the same time caring a lot. I don't know if that makes any sense, but you know what I mean? Being professional about it.

KJ:                                        30:15                    So we have a new question that I'm trying out on people. It's kind of a silly one, but what do you write in your head? I think all of us as writers wander around, sort of writing in our head constantly. What do you write in your head - when you're in the shower, or when you're lost in thought, or when you're driving kids to school? What are you writing in your head?

Abbi:                                    30:38                    At the moment? To be completely honest, I'm writing my eldest daughter's personal statement for her college applications.

KJ:                                        30:46                    That's an awesome answer.

Abbi:                                    30:48                    That is absolutely what I am writing and rewriting over and over again, which is unfortunate because I'm not actually the one who's writing the personal statements. Yeah. I have written bullet points for my child's personal statement many, many times on the way to the grocery store.

KJ:                                        31:13                    And I'm sure she's disregarded every single one.

Abbi:                                    31:16                    Oh, she's thrilled. She loves it when I come home and I burst into her room and I say, (well, after I've said what the hell happened in here?) Then I say, I've had some ideas for your personal statement and she sits up in bed and she, tugs out at least one of her ear bud things and says, 'Get out of my room.' Yup. Every time.

KJ:                                        31:41                    That's beautiful. It's really touching.

Abbi:                                    31:43                    It's a bonding moment. It's happened a lot lately. You know what it is, I don't even know that I'm writing as I'm driving around, but I'm always thinking about the book and sometimes I get an emotional feeling that I'm then trying to sort of get on paper. And so I'm always very happy when I'm driving around because I feel like I'm working, but I'm not actually producing anything.

KJ:                                        32:12                    Yeah, I write some amazing stuff on long drives, you wouldn't believe it. Yeah, it's good. It's really good. Then recently I tried turning on the notes app in my phone and (our friend Sarina, who has actually managed to do this successfully) I dictated a few of the great words that were in my head and I think that ended as we can all predict, which is that I did not even bother sending them...

Jess:                    32:39                    I have my children email me or text me. Like if I have a kid in the car with me, I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I just had an idea. I need you to email me with the words.' and I'll come up with some random string of words. And they look at me like, who are you?, What is it you do with your life? It's always really revealing.

Abbi:                                    32:59                    My children are amazed I've lived as long as I have. They're so perplexed that somehow I have managed to make it to nearly 50 when I'm clearly barely capable of getting through the day. You know, it's part of this mysterious force that keeps them moving forward. It's like we must find out what she is actually doing with her life.

KJ:                                        33:25                    We don't want them to have an answer. That's all. That's my theory, anyway. I'm hopefully just gonna remain a mystery to them for long enough that none of them writes a book about me.

Abbi:                                    33:37                    Oh, I'll be dead long before I hope.

KJ:                                        33:43                    Well, speaking of books we always like to let the guest go first. So let's do #AmReading. Have you read anything good lately or that you would recommend?

Abbi:                                    33:54                    When I'm writing, I can't read the genre that I'm writing. So I don't ever read fiction when I'm writing because I'm worried that I will steal from it or I'm just will become so despondent that this other person is doing it so much better that I will be unable to continue. So, my favorite genre is murder mysteries, which is what I grew up reading, cause that's what my mother did. And so when I am left to my own devices, I will go back and read golden age mysteries, like Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, etc. I am reading a Miss Silver mystery, which is Patricia Wentworth. And I couldn't be happier, I just go back over and over. Nero Wolfe, which is actually an American guy writer. I love those books and I've read them all 50 times and I will read them all 50 times more.

KJ:                                        34:59                    I have shelves and shelves and shelves. Which Patricia Wentworth are you savoring at the moment?

Abbi:                                    35:05                    I believe this one I'm reading is called Lonesome Road. I'm also terrible in general at titles. But they're all good and I love the Nero Wolfe mysteries. I think they're perfect. Just constructionist perfect.

KJ:                                        35:36                    So fun and such a great place to just go back and refresh and cleanse. There are some great people writing murder mysteries now, but I just tend to go back and reread them. It sounds like you do too.

Abbi:                                    35:52                    All the time. All the time. And I'll try not to, like right now I'm not reading Nero Wolfe's because I've read them so many times that I'm trying to forget some of it. But the problem is as soon as you start the book, you're like, no, I remember exactly. But it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter.

KJ:                                        36:09                    I think it actually frees your mind up to sort of churn around in the background.

Abbi:                                    36:13                    Yeah. And I just appreciate it, the writing is so good. Agatha Christie, you know, there's a reason that she is a success. Her plots are so perfect, her characterization is so deft, and they're so satisfyingly pleasing to read, that it's just a joy. So that is what I am always reading, a mystery of some kind or another. And that's what I would love to write. But I don't. Unfortunately I've been semi-successful writing this other genre and my publisher is not interested in me writing mysteries.

KJ:                                        36:47                    I have one in a drawer in which a guy at law school is killed in a parking lot and he bears a lot of resemblance to a guy I went to...yeah. It can never come out of the drawer.

Abbi:                                    37:08                    Well, the thing is, so I wrote a mystery - and my publisher probably doesn't want me to talk about this, but whatever - I wrote a mystery that I loved, and has a set of characters that I adore, and they don't want to publish it. And so that's fine. I'm actually going to rewrite it as not a mystery for my next book because I love the characters so much. And that's fine. I've discovered that I'm totally comfortable with that. I just want to write about these characters. So that's really where I'm at. The whole genre thing is somewhat perplexing to me. So, I did a lot of promotion for Nina around it being a romance, which it's funny because to me it's not at all a romance. I mean it is, but it's the weakest part of the book. That is not what's important. So I just felt like a bit of a fraud.

KJ:                                        38:06                    It's just really hard to tell. We spend a lot of time talking about this too, and I've just followed the women's fiction hashtag on Instagram and discovered a lot of new authors that way. And I think if we had Sarina here, one of the definitions that she's once offered me is that in women's fiction, one person can get their guy, but there has to be another plot. And if there's a best friend, they don't get their guy. But if it's romance, then everybody gets their guy. I'm probably misquoting her terribly, but you know.

Abbi:                                    38:39                    I get it. I call what I do domestic fictio,n because it's about people's domestic life.

KJ:                                        38:48                    I write what I like to read. Yeah, it's what's interesting. One more thing...

Abbi:                                    38:56                    What are you guys reading?

KJ:                                        38:57                    Oh that's right. We get to say what we're reading. Jess, go ahead. Cause I am drifting off.

New Speaker:                    39:02                    I've decided to do an experiment. So, as I mentioned, I've been reading Harlan Coben because I had never read Harlan Coben before. And I realized (especially recently) we've been talking about popular authors that have a bazillion best-sellers whose books I've never read. So I'm going to try a little experiment and try to read a book by a whole bunch of really, really popular, successful bestselling authors that I just don't even think to pick up because they've got books A through Z or W actually I guess is where she ended up. But you know, books by people that I have never picked up before and who have lots of them out there. Cause who knows, maybe I'll like one of them. I do know that I'm loving Harlan Coben still. So that's been fun for me.

KJ:                                        39:49                    And I have been rereading Confessions of a Bookseller by Sean Bythell, which we've talked about before. In part because I met a friend for a drink and she handed me a grocery shopping bag and said, 'George (her husband) wanted to give you this back.' And there it was - my copy - and I was in need of something soothing and fun. And in the process of reading it I got to noodling around because he writes a great deal about his girlfriend, who I think is his then-girlfriend, but I'm a little hazy. And, and the fact that she has written a book about the town in which the bookstore is. So for whatever reason, I never looked that up at the time. But now I have looked it up. And so the person who is Ana in his book and is his girlfriend had written the very popular Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Fairy Tale about her leaving her LA life, an ambitious Hollywood filmmaker, and going to this small town in Scotland and meeting this bookstore owner, and falling in love. I think the book has a happy ending, I'm not sure the life piece of it does, but I know they're trying to get it made into a movie. And now I've sort of rabbit trailed off into buying that book and following everyone on all the social media so I can find out what really happens, which honestly I probably would be just as happy if I just left it all between the covers of the first book. But that's what I'm doing.

New Speaker:                    41:19                    That sounds like a delightful endeavor.

KJ:                                        41:22                    And Confessions of a Bookseller is super fun.

Jess:                                     41:27                    And speaking of booksellers, actually, do we have a bookstore to talk about this week? Ms Abbi?

Abbi:                                    41:34                    Yes. So this is easy because the bookstore in Nina Hill is a real bookstore. And so in the book it's called Nights. And in real life it's called Chevalier's, which is French for night cause it's a very, very thin disguise. And it's on Larchmont Boulevard and it's a real independent bookstore, really run by a woman named Liz and staffed by a number of very smart and fabulous young women, much like Nina Hill. And I love it. I go there all the time. I always launch my books there. It's a really great store.

KJ:                                        42:08                    Oh, you're like one of the people with the kids in the reading group.

Abbi:                                    42:11                    Yes.

KJ:                                        42:12                    You're a side character in your own book.

Abbi:                                    42:15                    Yes. I'm not only the hero of my own life, I am also the supporting cast.

KJ:                                        42:21                    What did they do? What did they think?

Abbi:                                    42:25                    They liked it, they were amused. Or they're doing a very good job of pretending that they're amused, but yes, they like it. Liz says that she's nothing like the character Liz, but she is. It's a great store and has a wonderful selection of books. And Liz is one of those people who has the gift of, if I say to her, 'I really enjoyed X', she will say, 'Oh then you will really enjoy Y' and she's 100% correct. So that's a great skill.

KJ:                                        42:55                    I need her in my life, that is an amazing skill. My novel to come is centered around two fried chicken restaurants in a single small town in my book named Chicken Mimi's and Chicken Annie's. No it's not Chicken Annie's, that's the real one. There's a small town in Kansas with two fried chicken restaurants called Chicken Mary's and Chicken Annie's and I do not know what Chicken Mary's and Chicken Annie's are going to think of having become Chicken Mimi's and Chicken Franny's.

Abbi:                                    43:34                    I hope you at least get some free chicken out of it.

KJ:                                        43:38                    If I were in this small town in Kansas where haven't been in decades, I think I could make that happen. Well, thank you so much. We have utterly, wholeheartedly enjoyed, it's been, as you said, a laugh riot. Actually, it really has been. This has been really great and we thank you so much for coming.

Abbi:                                    44:15                    It's my pleasure. I look forward to coming back sometime.

Jess:                                     44:19                    Well and if people want to find you out there on the social internets, where will people find you? Where would you like to people to go?

Abbi:                                    44:26                    They can find me on Instagram. Cause I don't do Twitter.

KJ:                                        44:39                    We'll find it. We'll link it in the show notes, which I will remind listeners you can get in your inbox every week by going to amwritingpodcast.com and signing up and there they will be every time we have an episode, it will pop in. There'll be a short paragraph usually from me rambling on about what it is that we talked about. And then you get all the show notes, all the links, everything you could possibly ask for.

Jess:                                     45:09                    Alright. Until next week, everyone, keep your butts in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

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Oct 24 2019

46mins

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144: #ReadingWhileWriting

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...in which Jess and KJ tackle a classic writing question: can you read in your genre while you’re writing in it without absorbing other voices and ideas?

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Feb 01 2019

47mins

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147: #GoodNewsandHowIGotThere

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You heard it here first: KJ sold her novel. We talk about how the deal happened, why she took a pre-empt, and building a career.

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Feb 22 2019

43mins

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155: #GetUnstuck

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Uber-Coach Jennifer Louden on finding your "enough" and letting it power you forward.

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Apr 19 2019

43mins

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82: #ATouchofthePoet

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...in which Jess and KJ discuss with their guest, poet Lauren Halderman, how one gets started in poetry...and keeps it going. And is it really like writing code?

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Nov 24 2017

43mins

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80: #NaNoWriMo3

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….in which Jess and KJ update us on their word counts after week 1 of NaNoWriMo. Jess gets lots done in the airport and KJ comes clean about the voices in her head.

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Nov 10 2017

33mins

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9: #ActuallyTypingWords, Stay in the Chair and Write Now!

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...in which Jess grapples with a perennial issue, KJ warns about using friends as writing fodder, and is it always a bad idea to procrastinate?

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Jun 08 2016

34mins

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36: #OrganizedWriter 1

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...in which Jess and KJ begin a deep dive into keeping your many projects organized. It all starts with comprehensive back-up SOPs, but they also have suggestions on keeping track of everything from emails to to paper files to social media. Plus, the trouble with raising goats.

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Jan 06 2017

38mins

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172: #BucketGoals

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Big dreams, and how to achieve them. (Jess likes to be told she can do it. KJ prefers to be told she can't.)
#AmReading (and watching) 
Other People's Houses (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780399587924) , Abbi Waxman
Jess: The Butterfly Girl: A Novel (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062698162) , Rene Denfeld
A Discovery of Witches (book one of the All Souls Trilogy), (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780143119685) Deborah Harkness 
 (and the miniseries)
#FaveIndieBookstore
Northshire Books (https://www.northshire.com/) , Manchester VT and Saratoga Springs
This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.
Find more about Jess here (http://www.jessicalahey.com/) , and about KJ here (https://kjdellantonia.com/) .
If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship (https://www.marginallypodcast.com/) .

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Aug 16 2019

41mins

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159: #StoryGenius

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Story expert Lisa Cron joins Jess and KJ to dig into the mechanics of a good book, including the difference between plot and story, and looking beyond “what happened” to “why did it happen”.
To talk to Lisa Cron is--unless you've already read Story Genius or Wired for Story--to possibly flip everything you thought you knew about story--fiction, nonfiction, short, long, whatever--onto its head.
Story, she points out, isn't plot. It isn't what happens, and then what happens next, and then what happens next. It's the why behind those happenings. It's not, well, a spaceship just landed on the green in front of the library, and I'll either a) rush towards it or b) head for my car.
It's WHY I do those things. It's not just what I do next, but what it is about me, now the main character in this rather stressful tale that may end with us all being the entrees on some giant interstellar menu, that makes me make the no doubt terrible choices that I make (good choices make bad books). And that's my backstory. Which brings me to one of the many, many quick-write-that-down moments in this episode. 
Backstory isn't backstory. It IS the story. It informs every line of every page, every decision, every "because of this, then that," right up until the end, when whatever screwed me up in the first place becomes something I can overcome in order to win the aliens over and persuade them that we're not tasty after all (before I fry them with my laser gun and it's alien nuggets for everyone, with a variety of dipping sauces).
Our guest, Lisa Cron, is the author of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel* [*Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere] (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781607748892) and Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781607742456) . She also contributed to Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published. (https://writerunboxed.com/2016/06/09/author-in-progress/)
#AmReading
Jess sings the praises of The Lewis Trilogy (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781549174162) , Peter May
Lisa recommends Everything I Never Told You (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780143127550) , Celeste Ng
KJ is still finishing her favorite novel of this year so far, There's a Word for That (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316437165) , Sloane Tanen.
#FaveIndieBookstore
Book Soup (https://www.booksoup.com/) , Los Angeles
This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.
Find more about Jess here (http://www.jessicalahey.com/) , and about KJ here (https://kjdellantonia.com/) .
If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship (https://www.marginallypodcast.com/) .

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

May 17 2019

39mins

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83: #NaNoWriMoWrap

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...in which Jess and KJ close out National Novel Writing Month, find out how they fared, and what they dropped from their routines to make time to write all their extra words.

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Dec 01 2017

40mins

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Episode 189: #WhatWritersWant(thatmoneycanbuy)

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We all know you can’t really buy the things we writers want: inspiration, the power to spend as much time writing our books as we do thinking about them—not to mention sales, agents and editors. But you CAN grab a few things that make the writerly journey more fun. In this episode, we talk about the joys of journals and the perfect markers, tech tools that qualify as investments and those that are a little less spendy and suggest a few gifts for your writer groups stockings—including custom socks.

Episode links follow—but first, a preview of the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, December 16, 2019: Top 5 Things to Do to at the Start of a New Nonfiction Project. Remember, you can GIFT a supporter subscription! Or sign up to support us yourself.

On that note, there are affiliate links in this post. Most will go to support the podcast, but the things KJ “borrowed” from Catherine Newman’s gift guide are her affiliate links (and she’s donating the proceeds this year). As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

And now, this week’s links!

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

The Leuchtturm B5 bullet journal with monthly pages we all use.

From KJ:

KJ’s two sets of sticky notes: the color dots, and the color flags, from the glorious gift guide of one Catherine Newman.

KJ’s new favorite notebook, from Sarina (and Paipur—here’s their direct website).

Books and art supplies KJ is craving: Finding Your Creative Voice, Lisa Congden

A set of watercolor paints like this one, also snatched from Catherine’s gift guide. And hey, why not this book she liked, too? A Field Guide to Color, Lisa Solomon.

The outline pens KJ keeps seeing on Instagram—or something like them— are here in plain, and here in glitter.

We talked about classes from Skillshare, BluPrint and Master Class.

Give the Gift of a Podcast here.

From Jess:

Book Nerd hat I bought at Parnassus but you can get from Out of Print

Night Scout Rechargeable LED beanie in red

Tät Tat “sacco” upright pouch for glasses in grey blue

The Every Day Calendar from Simone Giertz (her useless robot video is here)

Pre-order Benjamin Dreyer’s Stet! Grammar game, out July 7, 2020

From Sarina:

Snarky notepads 

Frixion no-bleed, erasable markers in fineliners and plumper versions

New apple pencil 

Nebo app for handwriting-to-text

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

There’s no transcript for this week’s episode. Transcripts will return next week.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Dec 13 2019

43mins

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Episode 188 #HowtoJudgeaBook(byits)Cover

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Turns out you should judge a book by its cover, and readers do. Which means authors need to consider that (and not our own taste) when we think about our own covers. This week, we talk about the two things to consider whether you’re an indie working with cover artists or a trad with a publisher and an art department: reader expectations and those now-you-can’t-stop-seeing-the-flowers trends, and it turns into a bit of lesson in heading to the bookstore and making some cover judgments of your own.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, have you heard that we recorded our first #SupporterMinis this month? #SupporterMinis are short bursts of advice or inspiration (or maybe commiseration) to punctuate your writing week, which appear in the podcast feeds of our supporters. Supporters also get weekly #WritersTopFives like Top Five Goodreads Secrets for Authors and Top Five Things You Don’t Need to Be a Real Writer. Support us and we’ll do everything we can to support you!

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

To support the podcast and help it stay free, subscribe to our weekly #WritersTopFive email.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Jess: Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero, Christopher McDougall

KJ: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, Kate Racculia

More Reading on Book Covers

The 78 Best Book Covers of 2019 from LitHub

9 beautiful book cover design trends for 2019, 99designs

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work done. Check out their FREE (and epic) upcoming summit on the Business of Book Coaching if you’re intrigued, or visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

The image in our podcast illustration was compiled by the people at the magnificent LitHub, which you should bookmark and read constantly, and used in the article that’s linked in our shownotes: The 78 Best Book Covers of 2019. I note that I have not read one single one of these books.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                        00:01                    Hello fellow writers. The end of the year is a great time to look back at what filled you up in the past months and for many of us that's not just our writing, but the time we've spent helping others with their work. For some of us that's come out in small ways, but for others it's a calling and an opportunity to build a career doing work you love. Our sponsor, Author Accelerator provides book coaching to authors (like me) but also needs and trains book coaches. And they'll be hosting a free book coaching summit in January for anyone who wants to learn more. If that's got your ears perked up, head to authoraccelerator.com/summit. Is it recording?

Jess:                                     00:43                    Now it's recording, go ahead.

KJ:                                        00:44                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I'm supposed to be doing.

Jess:                                     00:48                    Alright, let's start over.

KJ:                                        00:49                    Awkward pause. I'm going to rustle some papers.

Jess:                                     00:52                    Okay.

KJ:                                        00:52                    Now one, two, three. Hey, this is KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting, the weekly podcast about writing all the things, be they fiction, nonfiction, proposals, final drafts, pitches, essays, whatever it is that you are working on. We are the podcast about sitting down and getting the work done.

Jess:                                     01:20                    I'm Jess Lahey, I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book about preventing substance abuse in kids and I am deep in the land of editing right now and you can also find my work at the Atlantic and the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Sarina:                                 01:33                    And I'm Sarina Bowen, the author of 30-odd romance novels and I am revising a book called Heartland, which will come out in the late winter and my revision is due on Monday.

Jess:                                     01:49                    Ouch, but you're going to make it.

KJ:                                        01:53                    I am KJ Dell'Antonia, the author of a novel coming out next summer, as well as How To Be a Happier Parent coming out in paperback next summer and former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times, where I occasionally still contribute, and right now, not in fact in the land of editing, or revising, or anything along those lines. But I will own that my bold declarations regarding NaNoWriMo and trying to finish my current project, I did not. It is not quite the end of NaNoWriMo as we record, but I can guarantee to you that I did not write 50,000 words of a novel during November, but that's okay. I needed to do a lot of thinking, so I could not write. If I had written 50,000 words, it would not have been a good use of my time. Sometimes, it turns out that way.

Jess:                                     02:45                    Well, I said I pulled the rug out from under my NaNoWriMo, anyway. So I've been doing something that was completely unplanned and has been going pretty well, actually. Oh, this is also fun news. I had a meeting with my editor - the same meeting that I had post sort of her taking a look at the first draft of Gift of Failure. And whereas the Gift of Failure meeting was vomit inducing, it was horrible. Some of you have heard this story, but basically suffice it to say it was a nightmare of a meeting with your editor, the very kind of meeting you hope you don't have. Although she's quite a lovely person. This meeting was its exact opposite. It was lovely, it was a love fest, everybody's happy. It was just really, really nice to have a positive meeting to offset the negative meeting that I had after Gift of Failure was turned in. One and one - is that what you say?

KJ:                                        03:50                    I was going to look at a little more positively and say not many writers can have such a ringing guarantee that they have learned.

Jess:                                     03:58                    Well, that's actually something that has been really interesting. I had a huge checklist of basically the what not to do stuff. And it was really nice cause during the meeting she said, 'I could tell that you were trying really hard to not do the things that you did last time.' And I'm like, 'Oh you have no idea. You have no idea how organized I was in my efforts to not make the same mistakes twice.' So that was a ringing endorsement of at least my anal retentive sort of attempts to to do better this time. To learn from my mistakes.

KJ:                                        04:30                    Massive gold star. For learning all the things and we're going to talk about other things that we've learned today. We do have a topic and I'm really excited about it. Today's topic is cover art.

Jess:                                     04:49                    I can fall so deep into this whole...like this topic, especially now since I'm at the point where I get to start sort of like really thinking about this. This can consume me for days.

KJ:                                        05:01                    So we're going to talk about covers when you need to create your own cover. Covers when you're working with a publisher and they are presenting covers to you. Covers internationally. Covers, you know, what it is when you are working with a publisher, what you ought to be thinking about. So let's just start broadly like, what makes a good cover?

Sarina:                                 05:24                    Well, I was thinking about this yesterday, as we were getting ready for this and I had a really good time thinking about it and making notes. And I thought that at the end of the day there were really two things that every author is supposed to think about. Two broad things - and they are, number one reader expectations, followed by (distantly) trends. So when I say reader expectations I mean that all of us, when we walk into a bookstore and we take that first glance at the table in front and maybe your eye comes to rest on a book, I don't know if until you're in this seat where you have to think about it, that you really realize how much information you're getting from that cover just at the first glance. About is that book fiction or nonfiction, is it literary, is it practical, is it a romance, is it for children? You know, you get a lot of information really quickly and, and when it's time for the gut wrenching question of what cover art is going to be on your book, you have to like back out a little and think with your analytical brain about what information you want readers to have.

Jess:                                     06:44                    This is something that when Gift of Failure was in the process of getting its cover the first round of covers really were a clear statement that my publisher wasn't really sure what this book was. And so when we backed up, my agent and I did a really clear conversation about what exactly do you want this book to say about what's inside. And I knew little things, like I wanted people to be able to know what this book was from far away. Like I wanted someone on the other end of a subway car to say, 'Oh, I recognize that book.' But above and beyond that, if you think about what Gift of Failure is, it's a parenting book, but it's an education book. And so there were all these like how do you convey that through a cover design? And it's really a tricky thing. And looking forward to the next book, I don't even know where to start with that, but I love the fact that you have to somehow get all of these messages across graphically. And that's what's so exciting about a cover.

Sarina:                                 07:49                    It is. And we should also say where Gift of Failure ended up as cover art because it's really telling; and it was such a great cover.

Jess:                                     07:57                    Well, and it was a total redesign. And when my agent and I rejected the first set of covers and asked for a redesign, we found the image of a ladder with a broken rung. And then we're like, 'Oh, but what if the ladder was made out of pencils?' So that was kind of a joint effort between me and my agent. So while my agent said (you know, she neve,r hardly ever recommends that an author sort of say, 'Here, look, here's a cover design.') She was very into the idea of us giving them ideas, especially once it seemed like their artists were stuck.

KJ:                                        08:34                    I want to jump on the word rejected. Cause you didn't, cause you couldn't. I have not read your contract, but I can almost guarantee you that that right is not in there.

Jess:                                     08:48                    How about we gently suggested?

KJ:                                        08:51                    But that is something to be aware of if you are in a situation where you're working with a publisher, you don't have control over the cover art. If the publisher said, 'No, no, what we really like for the book, the Gift of Failure is this shot of a Christmas tree with presents on it and gnomes hanging off of it and that's what we're going with. You really got nothing. So when you're in that situation to take like a sort of more diplomatic approach is very necessary. Because every new design really costs them money too, right?

Sarina:                                 09:32                    Right. And in one case, my first novel was women's fiction for Penguin in 2011, basically. And when I first saw the cover, they hired an outside illustrator to make it and I was told upfront that that was sort of an expensive thing to do. And they said, 'Here is your cover.' And I freaked because the cover was a whole bunch of things that did not make sense for this book. It looked vintage to me and the book was straight up contemporary. It was super busy. And I have to tell you, it had comic sans as the font. In black and the rest of the cover was not dark colors. And I just lost my mind there for a minute. But after I freaked out to my agent (and you're allowed to do that) I...

KJ:                                        10:31                    Yes. That's the person to freak out to.

Jess:                                     10:33                    Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina:                                 10:34                    Then I wrote, very carefully, a note about I didn't actually mention how much I loathed with every fiber of my being the imagery on this cover, but rather I explained why the readers we were looking for would not pick up that cover. That it looked too old, it looked too big. You know, because my opinion is not important to this equation, but reader opinion really is.

Jess:                                     11:01                    That's a fantastic point.

Sarina:                                 11:03                    Yeah. That's where you want to go with your angst. Is here's why this would be an error, you know, in a very analytical way.

Jess:                                     11:12                    I had this really cool situation with my publisher where the CEO, President, whatever, my publisher was teaching a class on publishing at a college. And one of the books that he had offered up to the students to do some sample covers for, just to sort of get an idea of how marketing works, one of them was mine. And the student got in touch with me through my website to talk to me about the fact that she had chosen my book as the book that she was working on in this college class on publishing, which was really cool. So that meant that my publisher was thinking about my book, not only from the perspective of 'I'm the publisher of this book and we want people to buy it, but I'm teaching students about marketing using this book.' So it was a really cool opportunity to have lots of perspectives. But also, unique, not many people get that opportunity.

KJ:                                        12:06                    That is very cool. My nonfiction, the How To Be a Happier Parent came back to us the first time with an image of like cartoon parents on a roller coaster with their children. About which there were many, many problems. Among them was that all the parents and children were white. And also being on a roller coaster does not make you a happier parent. I mean, it had its point. I could kind of see where they were coming from, but we did something similar where we went back to them with just talking about how we didn't think it represented the book and ultimately they asked me, 'Well, what do you like?' And this same process, just to jump ahead, it happened to me with the novel, you know, show us some pictures that you like, show us covers that you like, tell us what it is you like about this. They actually did that in the case of the novel before we even went into it. So, in the case of How To Be a Happier Parent, I actually gave them a magazine that I like, it's called Flow, and if anyone ever found Flow and also found the cover of How To Be a Happier Parent, it ended up kind of looking like an issue of Flow. It has a chalkboard, and a floral, it's very trendy to be honest. And I like the cover very much, but it's definitely of its time. And then for the novel this time around I went to the publisher's website and tried to pull covers from their website that I liked.

Sarina:                                 13:45                    Yeah, that was actually really fun to just think about the novel cover with you, KJ.

KJ:                                        13:51                    Yeah, we were all pulling things and it was really great.

Sarina:                                 13:56                    It was super fun. And that's kind of where part two comes into this, which is what trends have to say about what should be on the cover of your book. So one is reader expectations. And with The Chicken Sisters, you know, this is a novel about sisters. It's not a spoiler to say that. So, it's contemporary, it has a family dynamic, there's an element of competition regarding the whole book is about a contest, right? You had all of those things to kind of juggle and play with. And then there's also the trends of what's on the cover of women's fiction right now.

Jess:                                     14:43                    And not just what's on the cover, but what colors. Because it turns out, and I had no idea, obviously there are trends just like in fashion for colors and you can see what colors are trending when you go to your local bookstore.

KJ:                                        14:56                    Oh, you totally can.

Jess:                                     14:58                    It's really interesting. All of a sudden everyone decides teal is the color. Or everyone decides yellow is, it's really fascinating to watch.

KJ:                                        15:06                    Let's hope yellow is the color of 2020 because that's what I ended up with. So The Chicken Sisters went through two cover drafts. So the first cover was very typical of commercial women's fiction. That's commercial, small, the tropes and chicken sisters, just to use the lingo. It's a small town, there's restaurants, there's foodiness, there's women, there's lots of conversation. That's not really a trope. Anyway, the first cover was a picture of two women sitting in a restaurant, talking. And there was nothing wrong with that. Like it was fine, but it didn't really leap.

Sarina:                                 16:01                    It lacked conflict.

KJ:                                        16:02                    It looked like a happy women's, commercial women's fiction book, which it is. But it didn't show that it's a dynamic story. And also, like yours, it looked a little vintage, and it's a very contemporary story. And so we went back and sort of went through it again and talked again about different covers. And the thing that they came back with when they decided to do a complete redesign is such a perfect icon. What they've got is two women's hands pulling at a wishbone, which you guys can see. We will put it up in the show notes, of course. It's all over my Instagram and will continue to be all over my Instagram for the next who knows how long.

Jess:                                     16:55                    Here's a question - did you suggest the wishbone or did they come up with that?

KJ:                                        16:58                    I did not, they came up with it.

Jess:                                     16:59                    It's so good.

KJ:                                        17:02                    It's really perfect.

Jess:                                     17:04                    Because that first one, you're right, it really did look like two friends sitting down and having a cup of tea together. But this is perfect cause there's the conflict, there's the competition, there's the luck. All of that stuff, it's great.

Sarina:                                 17:17                    It's amazing.

KJ:                                        17:18                    And then I suggested (we made it super clear that they are different hands. You can tell by the fact that they've got different nail polish and they look a little different) and then it's got this background of sunflowers, which I love. And apparently floral backgrounds are super trendy, but I love them because the book is set in Kansas and sunflowers are very Kansas. I think what that communicates to readers is just, I don't know what the floral background communicates to readers to be honest. I like it, I pick them up.

Sarina:                                 17:52                    It's just an it item. It's pretty like who doesn't want to look at sunflowers. And we should also say, KJ, that this whole cover art, so gorgeous, is illustrated because that is also a big trend right now. So, in the nineties I read lots of like chicklet novels that had illustrated covers like the Bridget Jones era. And then there was a while there after chicklet kind of had a big moment and then went away that that like illustrated was gone from book cover land because it was like you can't say anything serious underneath an illustrated cover.

KJ:                                        18:34                    The pause here is me trying to remember what commercial women's fiction looked like in the...I guess it would...

Sarina:                                 18:46                    Well, there's photos of like porch swings, and adirondack chairs, and women on beaches with big floppy hats. And all of that is still there. Like Elin Hildebrand has beach covers, but hers are starting to look more illustrated, too.

KJ:                                        19:03                    They're starting to be illustrated pictures of women on beaches in big, floppy hats. And let me just say, I love a good women on a beach and a big floppy hat novel. So, you know, it's a good cover. If there were a beach and hats in my novel, I'd have been all over that.

Jess:                                     19:19                    I have to say all of the books I was going to talk about today. I've done this fun reversal to you know, stuff I don't usually read, the sort of women's romcom stuff and it's all illustrated. You're totally right, I was just looking at the covers.

Sarina:                                 19:33                    Yeah. And that's new. And it's also hitting the romance market pretty hard right now. So like four years ago you couldn't find a single romance novel with illustrations on the cover. It just didn't exist. And you know, everybody knows the history of romance covers with Fabio and like ripped shirts open and people. But a couple obviously screams romance. So people were used to seeing that. And then we hit the 50 Shades era and also self-publishing kind of ripped up all the rules because people didn't have photo shoots at their disposal, so...

KJ:                                        20:11                    They were busily sort of begging their brothers to stand around shirtless and it just wasn't working for whatever reason. Come on, come on, it'd be great for your Instagram.

Sarina:                                 20:23                    It became a stock photo market and there are certain stock photo models that when I see it that I just laugh because they're so overused. Like there's this one model that I call Creepy Eyed Santa Guy. I went for years without a photo of Creepy Eyed Santa Guy because there are a whole bunch of photos of him with a Santa hat on, but lots of photos of him without one. And then my check publisher actually used Creepy Eyed Santa Guy on one of my check editions. So now I do have that guy. But then 50 Shades of Gray came along and this author chose to put like cufflinks and a neck tie on her very stark covers.

KJ:                                        21:09                    And it was self-published. So that was her choice.

Jess:                                     21:11                    I think you mean handcuffs there, Buckaroo.

KJ:                                        21:15                    Oh, that's true.

Sarina:                                 21:17                    No, there were cufflinks.

Jess:                                     21:19                    Oh, were there?

Sarina:                                 21:20                    Yeah.

Jess:                                     21:21                    I only remember the tie and the handcuffs. I don't remember the cufflinks, excellent.

Sarina:                                 21:25                    No, there were like fine menswear stuff on and it. And it was moodily lit so it just looked like, you know, the guy took off his tie cause he had things to do. And that just ushered in what now in romance, people call object covers. And so now, if you see a book cover with a slip on it or just some piece of clothing moodily lit on a dark background, it tells you that that is going to be a very erotic book or have very erotic themes because that one author changed the way that romance novelists looked at cover potentials (in that sub-genre anyway) by her own success made it that way.

KJ:                                        22:09                    Well there were so many things to sort of tease out of that and one of them was your international publisher. But I was thinking about the question of illustratation - You tried an illustrated cover lately? We're talking about reader expectations and I know that recently you had a moment when you felt like the cover that you chose did not meet your readers' expectations.

Sarina:                                 22:38                    Oh yeah.

Jess:                                     22:39                    We want to hear more about that.

Sarina:                                 22:41                    Well, that was just last month and I was spinning off a character. So he was from my Brooklyn series and I had retired him from the hockey team in a book and I was spinning him off into a story about his family's very bizarre security company, like a cybersecurity thing. So I needed readers to know that that beloved character was getting a story and that they were connected. And my wonderful cover artist, she is so talented, made me exactly what I asked her for, which is something a bit trendy, with a bit of a blur to it, really interesting cover for this new series that had an element of suspense. She did exactly what I asked her to. It was gorgeous and the preorders for this book were terrible and I panicked and they just didn't improve and I thought, well, something's just wrong. Like readers really like this guy. They'll like this story, the blurb is good. Like I knew enough to know which things ought to be working and so I woke up six days before the launch - positive that the cover was a problem and I thought, okay, well I'm going to write my poor cover designer an email and say, 'Listen, I've made a big mistake. Do you have any time to help me?' And she said yes. And I bought a photograph from a photographer that day and I sent it over to her and we changed the cover so that you can tell that it's a spinoff from that other series by the typography.

KJ:                                        24:23                    Right. Now it looks like it looks like the other series.

Sarina:                                 24:27                    It does, except the background is dark instead of light and there's no sports imagery on it. But you can tell from the typography and the minute I showed it to people (another author who reads some of my stuff) said, 'Oh, it's a Brooklyn book.' And then I knew exactly at that moment that I was right and that book ended up doing great. It hit USA Today at number 89. It's performed in line, the audio is selling well. Like everything about it did what I had originally expected it to, but I had confused my readers and they did not know what to make of that new cover.

Jess:                                     25:01                    Well and how brave of you. Well, and keep in mind not only how brave of you to make a change at the last second, but making a change at the last second involved a lot of moving parts that a, you couldn't necessarily have anticipated like weird moving parts that that we can go into in just a second. But the other thing is, in terms of expectations, it's okay if your readers expect this to be a Brooklyn Bruiser's novel because they'll pick up that it kinda sorta a little bit is, but it's a new entryway into a whole new series. So, you didn't have to worry too much about people getting confused by it being, but not being, a Brooklyn Bruiser's novel.

Sarina:                                 25:43                    Right. Because that was true. It's just that I had lost them at like maybe it doesn't have anything to do with any of your other books and that was a mistake. Basically I was kind of tired of putting shirtless men on my covers and I wanted something artsy and interesting and it didn't work. Like my readers were not ready. Well, they just weren't there for me to say, 'Hey, my brand today looks different, you have to respect the brand that you've built.' And that's the mistake I made.

KJ:                                        26:18                    Here's a question. Does the illustrated trend extend to Indie and if so, is it a pricey thing to do to have an illustrated cover?

Sarina:                                 26:27                    You know, Indies are a little confused about it, because many of our cover artists are not illustrators. And so I have some friends that have found good illustrators to make this trend work for them. And then there is stock illustration, though. So a good cover artist isn't necessarily going to freehand everything. Like you can find illustration vectors that will contain the imagery that you're looking for and you can move it around however you wish.

KJ:                                        27:04                    Even publishers use that stuff. There is a little bird on the cover of How To Be a Happier Parent that I really loved and wanted to use in other places. And we had a problem because they had licensed it and they had only licensed it for cover use. So we worked it out. But yeah, even publishers use stock illustrations.

Sarina:                                 27:23                    Of course they do.

Jess:                                     27:24                    And publishers will also outsource stuff. There was one of my international editions, the publisher in that country wanted to use the original art from Gift of Failure in the U.S. and apparently my publisher had outsourced that art to someone that didn't necessarily work under that for Harper Collins. And so that art was no longer available because that person, for whatever reason wasn't making it available. So there's all kinds of snags that you can run up against with illustrators and licensing and all that stuff.

Sarina:                                 27:56                    Yeah, I bet that like almost half of U.S. traditionally published books have some element of licensed stock art on them. I see it all over the place.

KJ:                                        28:11                    And now we will all see it all over the place.

Jess:                                     28:15                    Well, I'm in that phase right now where I'm paying a lot of attention to covers because the cover for my next book is going to be really, really tricky. Because for me, I would love it if people would see this next book and identify it somehow with me, or my brand, or my preexisting cover art. How exactly you convey the title (which by the way we think is probably gonna stick) we probably think we're going to stick with the title of The Addiction Inoculation. We had a very specific conversation about this. And there are some worrisome images that you could use.

KJ:                                        28:50                    We've spent some time coming up with the worst possible combination of pencils and The Addiction Inoculation. We've enjoyed it, but you know, it's probably time to give it a rest.

Jess:                                     29:03                    Exactly. So what they end up with, so now I have tastes in covers and they may not necessarily be what's on trend right now. So it's going to be really interesting to see what they come up with. And I'm going to be brainstorming a lot about what possible covers could look like. In fact, I even got an email recently from someone who said, 'You know what, I was in a bookstore recently and I had this idea for you.' And believe me, those things are welcome. I love that.

KJ:                                        29:30                    So Sarina, walk us through creating a cover. As an Indie published author. Like where do you start? Where are you getting this art? Where do you find that person?

Sarina:                                 29:42                    You know, there are 10 or 15 cover artists that my friends and I all use and you can look at somebody's copyright page and see who did their design. So that's one place to start. Or you can even search book cover art.

KJ:                                        30:03                    Yeah. If you search this people definitely pop up. But I personally wouldn't have any way of evaluating them. I guess I could look at their covers because we can judge them by their book covers.

Sarina:                                 30:15                    And I honestly look at designer's websites all the time and I rarely find what I'm looking for cause I'm just super picky now. But the important thing is to find someone who understands the genre because without that key component, it doesn't matter how talented they are. In romance, if somebody showed me a cover without humans on it in some way, I would not be able to take that. And of course these things are really dependent upon the location as well. So all of my German books have flowers on them or other vegetation and they are so pretty. There are just gorgeous. But the first time I saw that flower cover, or actually it was a tree for a different book, I was a little panicked. Like people won't know this is a romance if there's no people on it, it's a tree. How is anyone gonna understand? But that was me just trapped inside my own stereotypical understanding of what I see at the bookstore when I look at a cover and Germans just don't need that, I guess.

Jess:                                     31:30                    The cultural divide can also be really interesting. One of my prettiest covers, I have no idea how it would get any Gift of Failure kind of idea across, it's Korean and it's got this beautiful deer on it. But someone told me that it actually appeals quite well in Korea. So who knows what I know. And by the way, your German covers I think are some of the most beautiful covers out there. I love them so much.

Sarina:                                 31:53                    Well, they were just geniuses with this because the first flower one came out I believe in March or April. And I began seeing it all over Instagram next to pictures of real flowers and it just photographed really well. And the season hit it just right. And yeah, it's pretty great.

Jess:                                     32:41                    The interesting thing is there are some people who also try to hook their website art into their cover art and some people's website art ended up, I'm thinking about Gretchen Rubin's specifically, she worked with a designer who sort of helped to do branding for her all over the place. And that art from the branding company ended up also being her cover art. And so, you know, there's all kinds of convoluted ways this can happen. But some of the most recognizable art out there, I think Gretchen's art is incredibly recognizable from her happiness project. And that was the result of a partnership with a branding company. So anyway, there are lots of ways to to tackle this beast, I suppose.

KJ:                                        33:28                    Yeah. And then when you get your cover art, I would guess as an Indie, you probably want to make sure that you have it licensed so that you can use it in every possible scenario. And if you're working with a publisher, you can ask can I have the elements of the... So for example, I asked for the sunflower background so that I could use it as a background for social media and for for some paper stuff that I wanted. So it doesn't have the cover image, it only has the sunflowers on it. You can take your own cover art, whether it is Indie or publisher driven, and you can you can take a screenshot of a tiny chunk of the color and then just Google, what color is this? And pop the screenshot in there and it'll give you the number. So you'll get this crazy six digit/letter number that signifies that color digitally. And you can go to Canva and make your brand palette with your colors and you should. And then you can use that for everything. You can ask your publisher what your font is and then you'll have to look, maybe Canva and other places have that font. I actually had to buy the font that they used on my title for like $7.99 or whatever. But I bought it and I bought the license so that I can use it on cards and things like that. A publisher might pay for that for you, but in this case the amount that it cost to buy the font was not worth it. And then once you've bought the font, you can upload it to Canva. There's a lot you can do with this stuff once you've got it in hand.

Jess:                                     35:27                    I have these lovely book plates with pencils on them and and that's been a wonderful thing to have and it matches the book. I love it. We are running up against the end of our time, but I wanna make sure we have time to talk about what we've been reading, cause I've been reading a lot.

KJ:                                        35:43                    Are we done with talking about covers?

Jess:                                     35:45                    I don't know. I'm happy to go over and I assume our listeners are happy to go over, but, but there's definitely a lot to talk about and definitely a lot to talk about when it comes to cultural stuff.

KJ:                                        36:00                    Yeah, we didn't talk about like trends in nonfiction and the sort of the big book cover, which is basically nothing but letters on either a background or a background image. Or I was reading some interesting stuff about how there's a new trend for like having the illustration kind of overlap the letters. So that's a neat thing. I don't know. It's just fun to see what's coming and then watch for it. It makes you look at covers differently, even while all the while you're using them in your mind to judge whether or not you would want to read the book. Because the truth is that we do judge a book by its cover.

Jess:                                     36:39                    Well, and you know, it was funny when I was looking at covers for Gift of Failure, I kept sending pictures to my agent of covers that I love. And she'd emailed back and she'd say, 'Yeah, Jess, that book sold like 40 copies.' And I was like, 'I can't help it that my my taste in book covers is a little esoteric, but whatever.' Books, let's do it people, What have you been reading, KJ?

KJ:                                        37:07                    I've actually been reading a lot. It's been a good season for reading for me. So I've been all over Instagram with doing a new thing. I'm doing book chats, which Sarina also does, where I do a little video about the book that I've been reading. It's been a really good reading season, but I'm gonna pull one out. Partly because I like the cover. I just finished Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts. I loved it. And it's got a gorgeous blue cover with this sort of Zodiac looking thing around the type. It's a big book cover in that the type takes up most of the cover, but there is a person on it. Do we think having the person on it sort of signifies fiction? I think it might.

Jess:                                     37:57                    Really? Well, what are you talking about in terms of a person?

KJ:                                        38:01                    This is an illustrated cover but it does have like a silhouette of a person. And now that I'm sort of coming to think of it, it's kind of rare to see silhouettes of people, or any form of people, or body part on nonfiction other than memoir. And I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but I'm just thinking about like what are the subliminal cues here?

Jess:                                     38:25                    That's true, I hadn't thought about that.

KJ:                                        38:26                    Anyway, Tuesday Mooney - it's a little bit ready player one-esque - there's a millionaire with a big game. There is a ghosty element, but it's not very strong. I don't know, it's not like magical realism world. It's very much the real world with a flare of ghostliness, which I like very much. The characters are all incredibly fun. No matter how small the character is in the book, you would totally have a beer with that person. And it really, as a writer, reminded me of what I think of as fun in a book and that I need to focus on those things. Anyway, recommend.

Sarina:                                 39:11                    I can't wait to read it.

Jess:                                     39:13                    Is that it or do you have anymore?

KJ:                                        39:14                    That's it, I'm going to leave the others for other episodes.

Jess:                                     39:18                    Okay. So I have a couple. Sarina, do you mind if I go next?

Sarina:                                 39:23                    You should go next because I don't have a meaningful contribution.

Jess:                                     39:26                    Okay. Well I have a fair number because I've been traveling a fair amount to speak and so that means audio books, obviously, and lots of time on planes. And I was in New York walking all over New York. I got so much great walking done and listening to books. Speaking of great covers. I just finished a book by Christopher McDougall who wrote Born to Run and a couple of other books. You know the one about the, the Mara tribe running this ultra marathon. His new book is Running with Sherman, and Sherman is a donkey. So, of course there is a fantastic picture of a donkey on the cover of this book. And so obviously nonfiction, tells you exactly what the book is going to be about, it's about running with a donkey, and it's great. I loved the book. Christopher McDougall is so good at doing going off on really appropriate tangents, whether that's relationships with animals, mental health. There's a whole side story because of one person in the book about a mental health issue and how animals can affect your mental health. And anyway, so the story of Sherman, this donkey that he rescued from near death and then ended up running a long distance sort of burrow. It's a thing apparently, running with burrows. And it's very, very funny. So that book had a great cover. And then two of the books I listened to, both of which were kind of romcom were illustrated. One was Frankly in Love by David Yoon, and that was a YA. Although, that line between upper YA and adult YA it's such a fine and silly line. But this book was fantastic.

KJ:                                        41:15                    Tuesday Mooney sits on that line, too.

Jess:                                     41:18                    Really?

KJ:                                        41:18                    Totally. It's totally got YA characters, some of them, but it's also got adult characters. Well, you know what Ready Player One sits on that line. I read it, my kids read it.

Jess:                                     41:29                    And this is definitely a first love story and it's a kid finishing high school and going into college kind of thing. But I also learned a ton about Korean culture. The characters are Korean and it was a wonderful love story. And then the other illustrated cover romcom book I read (that I just started today and I'm already completely in love with) is Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren. And I did not know until Sarina told me that these are two separate authors. I did not realize that they're a team.

Sarina:                                 42:02                    Yeah, Christina and Lauren.

Jess:                                     42:04                    And it sounds like they have what, like 30 books under their belt and they're great. Well, this one so far is fantastic. It's there is an echo of The Accidentals there, Sarina, that's really interesting. And it's just a really fun story to listen to while I'm baking and things like that. And there were also two books that I'm not gonna mention that I wanted to throw across the room in frustration because they didn't stick the landing. And that was incredibly frustrating for me, especially since one of them is in all the airport bookstores because it's a current bestseller at Hudson Books. And I just get so angry. Like this has happened to us many times where I say, 'There's this book, I'm so excited, it's on the best seller list and it's another suspense kind of story. And I get so excited and I get into the characters and then, man, it just falls flat at the end and I get so angry.

KJ:                                        43:04                    Endings are hard. I mean I read something recently, which I will at some point talk about on an episode cause I did end up liking it, but I'm not going to name it right now because this is mildly critical, you know at the end you could see the wheels, you know the machine was cranking. It's hard, I mean I think you could say that about almost any book if you lose your suspension of disbelief for any reason and yet you still keep reading. And sometimes as writers, I think we might lose our suspension of disbelief in ways that we wouldn't as readers. Like something pulls you out and makes you go, 'Oh, I remember them putting this in in chapter four.' And then all of a sudden you're watching the writing and now it's hard not to see the machine moving because you know that there's a machine.

Jess:                                     43:56                    One of the two books that I wanted to throw across the room though, had a clanking machine so loud that I nearly said out loud on the streets of New York, 'That makes no sense and could never happen.' I was so irritated. It was just really, really irritating to me. But I guess I'll leave it at that. You know, I have some other critical things to say, but it's been a really fun reading period because I've realized I've got some dark stuff going on that I'm dealing with personally. And so I'm in that happy place with romcoms and that's really, really fun. Alright, I think we're good people. I think I missed you guys cause cause you did one without me and so I'm so happy to be back.

KJ:                                        45:07                    Before we sign off, let me just remind everybody that if you would like the show notes for this episode, you can always find them at amwritingpodcast.com. If you are interested in getting our top fives for writers, which come out weekly, the most recent one was top five BookBub with secrets for authors. You can also go to amwritingpodcast.com and sign up to be a supporter of the podcast. Do that and the weekly top fives will drop into your mailbox as well as our new mini supporter episodes of which we have so far recorded one. And we're loving building this writerly community, which I might add, you can also check out on Facebook by looking for the AmWriting group.

Jess:                                     46:02                    Okay, until next week everyone, keep your butts in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Dec 06 2019

47mins

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Episode 187 #TheThankYouProjectProject

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The infamous how-to meets self-help meets memoir-with-a-dash-of-stunt genre. It may be awkwardly named, but we love it.

This week’s guest didn’t realize she was laying the groundwork for her first book when she decided to write 50 thank you notes to the people, things and places that shaped her in honor of her 50th birthday—but of course she was When you can define a thing and the time frame and the reasons for doing it so clearly, what else can you do but inspire other people to do the same? But the road from I’m doing this thing to I’m publishing this book isn’t clear (although in this case it was lightning fast). This week, Nancy Davis Kho talks to us about what it took to make her book saleable, then write the damn thing and make it really really good.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, did you catch the #WritersTopFive that popped into your inbox Monday? (And if it didn’t, HELLO, you need to subscribe to our free weekly #AmWriting emails!)

That was just a little taste. We do those every week. I just scheduled Top Five Reference Books for All Novelists, and Three More for Special Occasions, and you don’t want to miss it. (You won’t believe the kinds of things that can be turned into an encyclopedias or dictionary.) We also recorded the first of many #MiniSupporter episodes that will slip right into the podcast feeds of #AmWriting supporters everywhere. Support the podcast you love AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

Aya deLeon, author of the Justice Hustlers series.

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Nancy: The Good Lord Bird, James McBride

Jess: Sense and Sensibility, narrated by Kate Winslet

KJ: What Should I Read Next—the podcast from Anne Bogel, aka the Modern Mrs Darcy. (I’m obsessed with it. I’ve found so many great new reads!)

#FaveIndieBookstore

A Great Good Place for Books, Oakland

Our guest for this episode is Nancy Davis Kho, author of The Thank You Project and host of the Midlife Mixtape podcast. Find the book, the podcast and all things Nancy HERE.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work done. Check out their FREE (and epic) upcoming summit on the Business of Book Coaching if you’re intrigued, or visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                        00:02                    Hey there listeners, it's KJ. What with Jess starting in on a new project lately, we've been talking a lot about nonfiction and research. If that's your kind of work, our sponsor, Author Accelerator can help and you don't have to go all in with full on book coaching if you're not ready. Check out their new four week long nonfiction framework program that will help you nail down your structure before you start to write, or after your writing and realizing, dang, this thing needs a backbone. Authors of self-help, how-to, and academic texts will find the shape of their books, create a working one page summary that helps reveal that shape at a glance, and develop a flexible table of contents to guide you through the drafting and revision process. You can find a lot more, including previews of much of the material, by going to authoraccelerator.com/nonfictionframework. Is it recording?

Jess:                                     00:02                    Now it's recording.

KJ:                                        00:02                    Yay.

Jess:                                     00:02                    Go ahead.

KJ:                                        01:00                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing.

Jess:                                     01:01                    Alright. Let's start over.

KJ:                                        01:06                    Awkward pause, I'm going to rustle some papers. Now one, two, three. Hey, I am KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting the podcast about all things writing - nonfiction, fiction, book proposals, essays, not poetry. I made that joke a few weeks ago, but I just can't stop because I feel like it's not all the things. I am KJ Dell'Antonia, your rambling host, and this is the podcast about getting your work done.

Jess:                                     01:45                    And I'm Jess Lahey. I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book. It won't be till spring of 2021, a book on preventing substance abuse in kids and you can find me at the New York Times, and at the Atlantic, and at the Washington Post. And we have such a guest today. We have such a guest.

KJ:                                        02:05                    I didn't really introduce myself.

Jess:                                     02:06                    Go ahead, please go.

KJ:                                        02:08                    I just introduced myself as your rambling host and I am so much more than that.

Jess:                                     02:13                    You go, and then we'll let that weird person who no one even knows, we'll let her talk after. But KJ, you go first.

KJ:                                        02:24                    I am KJ Dell'Antonia. I am the author of the novel The Chicken Sisters, which you can't buy yet, but you'll be able to next summer and believe me, you'll hear all about it. Also of How To Be a Happier Parent. I'm the former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times, where I sometimes still contribute and I am working on novel number, whatever it is if you count the ones in the drawer and we don't know if it will be published, that's what I'm doing. So that's who I am and why you should (or should not) listen to me.

Jess:                                     02:57                    We have a guest today who you should definitely listen to. Because she's hysterical, and wonderful, and funny, and has a book coming out that is fantastic and very near and dear to my heart. We are talking today to Nancy Davis Kho. She is a writer. She's written for Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Adirondack Life, The Rumpus, all these various places. She's in an anthology called Listen To Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We're Saying Now. And Listen To Your Mother, by the way, is hysterical if you've never come across it before. Nancy has a fantastic book coming out this month that is, as I said, so near and dear to my heart because it's about thanking people. And so, thank you Nancy, for being on the podcast today.

Nancy:                                03:41                    I pretty much wrote a book in order to be on your podcast, just so you know.

Jess:                                     03:46                    Nancy has her own podcast, one of my very favorites. It's the Midlife Mixtape podcast and if you are not already listening, you should. Because it's wonderful, and fantastic, and it makes me very happy every single time I listen to it.

Nancy:                                04:03                    You guys are so nice. Can I call you every morning, Jess, and just have you say, 'You matter.'

Jess:                                     04:09                    I love this book, not only because thank you notes are really important part of not only my personal life but my professional life, but because I feel like KJ and I have had a personal stake in the project because we've gotten to hear about the process of you writing this book, and pitching this book, and how it all came about. So we usually like to start by talking sort of about how you got started writing, KJ often likes to ask what the first thing you got paid to write was, and we'll go from there.

Nancy:                                04:44                    Oh wow, I'll have to think about the answer to that question. Thank you so much for having me on the show. And also you guys have been such tremendous cheerleaders and sources of real pragmatic information. I have listened to so many of your episodes and just scribble down as I'm going because this podcast is so invaluable in helping people as they're going into various, you know, the first time you're doing this, the first time you're doing that, you guys have had guests on who've talked about that. So it's such a great resource and I really am honored to be on the show.

Jess:                                     05:20                    And you're going to have to listen to some of the publicity episodes - like the marketing and publicity episodes.

Nancy:                                05:26                    Jess, am I brand new? I've already listened. I started listening to them a second time, please. The one where you guys were talking about your book launch plans. I listen to podcasts oftentimes when I'm hiking and I can picture the stretch of the Oakland Hills where I was, where KJ was talking about how many rows were in the spreadsheet and I was like, 'I can't do all of this. God.' But it was good.

KJ:                                        05:53                    You're just lucky Jess didn't talk about how many rows in her spreadsheet.

Jess:                                     05:58                    Tell us about how you got started.

Nancy:                                06:02                    My background is in international business. I studied that in college. I got a couple of degrees in that, I picked up a husband in an international business program. So it all worked out. And I spent about 17 years doing that and I loved it. But whenever anybody would ask me, 'If you could do anything, what would you want to do?' I would say, 'Oh, I'd like to be a writer.' Here's my reason: it seems portable, I think I could do that from anywhere. That was my basic feeling about it. But I did always love writing. And you know, I've been an avid reader. All of us, right? Anybody listening to this show, we've all been reading since we were in short pants. And nothing like a 40th birthday to give you a bit of an identity crisis. And I thought, 'My God, I'm going to turn 40. And I tell people I want to be a writer. I've never tried. Maybe I should try writing. That would be a thing I could do.' So I took a class the summer before I turned 40 and by the time I finished (it was a class in creative memoir or I think it was just personal essays) and by the time I finished the class, I'd had two things published. And I was like, 'You know what? I love this.' I loved getting the byline and I just loved the process of writing. So that is now 13 years ago in the rear view mirror. And I thought at the time, as you do when you're a beginner at anything, I was like, 'Hmm, what's the hardest thing that I'm not qualified to do? I know I will write a novel of historical fiction that deals with race issues from the standpoint of a white woman. That's what the world needs now.' So I commenced to spending six years researching and writing a novel that is composting very nicely in a drawer. I can see which drawer in my office it is sitting in right now. And that was hard work. I told my husband, 'I'm a writer now, I'm going to quit my corporate job. Neglecting to factor in that I had two small kids who needed (we live in the Bay area, everybody needs to work) So it was a bumpy time - the writing I loved, the researching I loved, like the whole writing part of it was great. It was trying to figure out how to balance the lifestyle with that that was challenging. And also just realizing how much I had to learn as a writer. And I think one of the messages I try to put on the podcast all the time, so the Midlife Mixtape Podcast is about the years between being hip and breaking one. And I started it because I wanted there to be a counter narrative to midlife being a crisis because what I found was that it wasn't an identity crisis to become a writer. It was like I was adding something to myself. I was doing something that made me happy. And now it didn't work right out of the gate. I didn't publish a novel when I was 41, but I was challenging myself, and learning new stuff, and eventually I ended up going back to corporate work and doing that part time. And that's kind of been my gig ever since. I have a day job, I work in digital content licensing. I really like it, I have mastery at it, I've been doing it for years and years. And then I have this creative side where I can do the writing. So I think as a writer, I just feel like I've been pragmatic in terms of forgiving myself for not being successful right away. And so, I spent six years getting better and better and still not having a novel that needed to see the light of day. And then when I finished with that, I got frustrated and I had started the blog, Midlife Mixtape, and I realized that what felt very comfortable to me was humor writing. It came to me naturally. I'm the youngest of three in a family of very funny people and you really have to bring your A game all the time in my family. So, for me that was a much easier voice to write in. I always say my goal is to sound like Erma Bombeck meets David Sedaris, you know, not mean spirited but funny, and kind of poignant. And so after a little while writing in that voice on Midlife Mixtape, I thought, 'I know I'll write a book about my midlife music crisis.' And I wasn't really having a midlife music crisis, to be honest. What had happened is, I went to a concert and a bouncer said to me, 'Are you just here to drop off your kids?' I mean, I've been an avid concert goer since I was 14 and that shook me. So I was like, 'Oh, maybe I am too old to go to a Vampire Weekend concert. Maybe I should try to find more midlife appropriate music.' But the truth was, I still kept going to shows like that. I started going to the symphony, I started going to heavy metal shows, I was trying all different kinds of stuff. But I felt like I was manufacturing the arc of my story a little bit. And I think that always kind of stuck with me that I was telling a funny story people could relate to, this memoir that I spent only three years writing that one. So I doubled my speed from which I had written the historical fiction novel. But there was something about that story that never connected, even for me, because I just felt like, okay. As this one writing mentor of mine said, 'What, you wanted to go to a concert, you kept going to concerts. There's not a lot of character change here, you know. Any good memoir needs that needs that arc.' And so I got to see a lot of fun shows and I wrote about those on the blog. But that book also came closer to what I wanted to write, but it still wasn't quite the right thing. So that one went into a drawer and that was now I guess about three years ago, four years ago.

Jess:                                     11:55                    Well, and I have to say you're definitely learning your lessons. Because all of the things you're criticizing about the early work that stayed in the drawer is like the antithesis of what I found when I opened The Thank You Project. So keep going with your story, but I just want to say that like all of these realizations, you're having, you know, the sort of there being no trajectory, there being no personal connection. Like that's what The Thank You Project is about from the very first page, a very personal project that came out of a very important moment in your life. I think even if I didn't know you personally, I would be very connected with you as a writer from the first page of this book. So, those lessons were really important for you to learn. I think that's how we get there, as KJ and I both know, you got to write a lot of bad stuff.

KJ:                                        12:48                    We never talk about this, but you and I both, Jess, have memoirs in drawers.

Jess:                                     12:53                    Yup. Yeah we do.

KJ:                                        12:54                    I mean that just, it just doesn't come up. Like we talk a lot about my novel in a drawer. But it rarely comes up that I have, I can't remember if I wrote the whole thing, but I definitely have a memoir proposal in the drawer. And you have a memoir proposal and I think pretty much the memoir.

Jess:                                     13:10                    Oh no, I have the whole thing. I sold chunks of it as essays and and that was sort of the thing I got out of it.

Nancy:                                13:22                    Well, and I think this is really my message to anybody who's listening, and feeling frustrated, and wondering why the project isn't working. Fast forward to spring of 2018, which is when the idea for this book, The Thank You Project, came along and I know we're going to talk about it, but my message is every misstep I took was actually getting me closer to this book that I feel so strongly about, I feel so proud of, I feel like I'm the right person to tell this story that's in this book. And all that other stuff, all those years I wasn't getting published. What was I doing? I was meeting great writers. I was reading books by great writers. I was very happily sharing the work of other writer friends and promoting them and I was getting better at my craft. I was building my network of support. And so now I'm hugely gratified, but you know, there's so many people trying to help me with this book and that's because I put in 12 years of work that didn't feel at the time like it was amounting to anything. But now it's all paying off. So anybody who's listening and feeling frustrated, I would just say, please don't give up. Because there's a reason, there's a path.

Jess:                                     15:03                    Well what's funny is before I wrote the proposal, as KJ well knows, for the book I just finished, I actually went through the trouble of writing proposals for a bunch of books that weren't quite right and what they were was sort of circling around the topic, but also really important work for me to do to figure out, Oh okay, so this aspect of this topic fits in somewhere, but I'm not quite sure how. So that finally when that idea comes, you have some familiarity with the things that aren't particularly interesting, or working, or whatever. So when you have that moment, it's super exciting when you have that idea for, Oh this is the thing. In fact, I pulled off the road and I texted Sarina and KJ right away and said, 'This is it. This is the thing, I know this is the right thing.'

Nancy:                                16:26                    Well, and that's how it felt. So the book is called The Thank You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time. And what happened was I found an agent for that music memoir, it did not sell. And I really had a time where I thought maybe I'm not a writer, I know I'm good at writing these little blog posts and I get essays published, but maybe I don't have it in me to do a full length work. So I'm going to take this creative energy and I started the podcast and turns out I love podcasting; I'm a tech nerd at heart. A lot of the work I did the first 17 years of my career was in the software industry. So I love working, learning new technology, and everything. I was really struggling a little bit with this idea that maybe I'm not an author, I'm a writer, but not an author. I guess that's probably not an uncommon thing. And it occurred to me one day (and I was 49) it occurred to me that the reason my book didn't sell was because my character, myself in the memoir, wasn't unhappy. There wasn't a transition because she started off happy and she ended up happy. And I'm like, that's not a problem, that's something to be really grateful for. And this was at the end of 2015, and in 2016 I was going to turn 50. And I'm like, 'You know what, the thing I should do to honor and commemorate my 50th birthday is to thank the people that have made it possible for me to be where I am.' You know, my parents were alive, my husband's great, been married to him since forever, we've got two girls, you know, everything's fine. So I thought the way I want to celebrate my 50th year is I will write a letter every week, a thank you letter once a week, to somebody who has helped, or shaped, or inspired me up to this point in my life. And of course when you tell the universe that you're doing this because everything's going great, everything goes to st pretty darn quickly. So I started writing my letters and it was really great. I'd sit down every week and you know, write a letter to my nephew Tristan, or to my friend Kitty who lives in Australia. And it just was wonderful every week to sit down and think about this person who had been meaningful in my life and what lessons that I learned from them and how they'd help me.

KJ:                                        18:44                    I'm going to interrupt, cause I know where you're going. At this point, this isn't a book?

Nancy:                                18:49                    No, no. These are just letters.

KJ:                                        18:51                    This is just something you're doing. So this is not like stunt journalism, in which you're, 'I don't know what I'll do. I'll write...' This is a genuine thing, right?

Nancy:                                18:59                    I wasn't even an author at that point, anymore. I'd kind of tried it and not gotten through anything. So I was just writing thank you letters because that seemed like a good way to mark a period of my life. So halfway through the year, my dad gets diagnosed with cancer and he is gone in six weeks. We had no idea he was sick. My older daughter left for college a couple of weeks after the funeral and that was certainly not a sad thing, but it was a big adjustment to have your older kid to go off to school and she goes to school on the East coast. So she's far. And then it was the 2016 presidential election, so everybody's anxiety level was through the roof. And I realized the worse things got, the more I needed the thank you letters. Because it was just this moment every week where I could crowd out all this sadness, and this tension, and the worry, and I'd be like, 'Hmm, I'm gonna write a letter to the city of Oakland. Because you know what? It's not even just people who have shaped me, it's places I've lived. And then I had a period of writing letters to cities and then I started writing letters to dead authors. Like I love Jane Austen. I'm going to write her a letter, but I'm going to have to explain some things to her. And it got to be really fun. And anyway, I got to the end of the 50 letters, (took me longer than a year) printed them all out, bound them in a book, and flip through that book all the time. You know, you rifle through it and you go, 'Oh yeah, my Aunt Nooney is so nice to me.' You're having a bad day, read about what your Aunt Nooney did for you. You know, it'll cheer you up, it'll remind you that when you're in hardship, you've almost never been alone. That there's always people around you. So, just in and of its own self as a writing exercise, writing the thank you letters was really important. So now it's spring of 2018 and one of the people who got the letters, Ann Imig who is the editor of the Listen To Your Mother Anthology and the founder of that empire said, 'Nancy, that's your book. You need to tell people how to do this.' And I'm like, 'What? It's so straightforward. You write a thank you letter.' But then another friend of ours who knew that I had done it, sat me down and she's like, 'Okay, who did you write to? How long was the letter? What did you put in the letter? How did you organize it?' And I answered questions for her for like an hour. And I thought, 'Okay, maybe it's not as straightforward as I thought it was.' So I thought, you know, at this point, the podcast was cooking along, my day job's cooking along. My kids are, you know, I've got one in college, one in high school, nobody needs me around anymore. I got some free time. So I thought I'll just start writing a few chapters of this, just think about how I would write a book that explains to people how to do their own thank you project. And it poured out of me, I wrote that proposal so quickly. Why? Because I had two other book proposals that I'd already done. Yes, I wrote a book proposal for a fiction novel. Don't ask me, I know it's wrong. And now I know that. At the time when I was writing my historical fiction I didn't know. So, there's the reason I wrote two proposals because when I really needed one, I literally just could do a find replace, for the most part. So it was just kind of a proof of concept to myself that this could be something. And I wasn't going to get an agent, because agents hadn't sold my book before, so why would I bother? And then people like KJ, and Jess, and a couple other people said, 'You should talk to an agent.' So I started in April 2018, at the end of May 2018 I reached out to a few agents who I'd met in person and online, and three or four of them came back and said, 'I would love to see this proposal.' And I was like, 'Oh, that's weird.' And I got it out the door. And then the timeframe was I signed with our wonderful agent (we all have the same one, Laurie Abkemeier) who's been wonderful, signed with her in June, we worked on the proposal together in July, and I signed a deal with Running Press in the end of August. This is all last year. So I signed the deal with Running Press in August. My deadline was November 15th for the finished book.

Jess:                                     23:16                    You had written parts of it -Yes? No?

Nancy:                                23:19                    Well, I'd written the first three chapters that belonged in the proposal...

Jess:                                     23:25                    So what had you been smoking to make you think that you could set a deadline that quickly? What was the thinking behind that?

Nancy:                                23:33                    I knew how to write this book, I knew how to tell this story. I'd written the letters. I knew how impactful they could be. I really wanted other people to know. I am spiritual, I'm a church lady, I go to this Episcopal church. And I do think this is one of those cases where I was given a message to share because that's something I can do. I can tell like a funny, uplifting story. It's taken me 13 years, but I know how to do that. In the places where the other two books had been a struggle - I don't want to say I couldn't have told those stories, but this one just was easy for me. I just knew what I wanted to say, and I and I knew how to say it. And let's face it, I do use snippets of the letters and there were days that I needed the #AmWriting podcast, I'm like, 'Ooh, I need a burn chart. I need to know what my daily word count is. And there were days where I'm like, 'Well I'm talking about a letter to write to a doctor, maybe I'll include a snippet of the letter I wrote to my OB.' I just covered my word chart, like put in two paragraphs, and I'd be done, go get my coffee. So there was a little bit of source material in that I do include snippets of my letters to kind of get people started. But I didn't want it to just be my letters. I ended up interviewing a few people who had done something similar, so I've got some other people's examples. And then the thing that I loved about writing the book was that it gave me a chance to delve into the science of happiness and gratitude. Cause I didn't want it to just be, 'This is what I did, so you should try it.' I wanted to steep it in some quantitative research that talks about why gratitude letters are so magic. And you know, low and behold, during those 13 years when I was freelance writing, I interviewed a bunch of happiness researchers for various publications. So I had the Rolodex - does anybody listening know what a Rolodex is? I had the phone numbers, okay? So I called the researchers and I got to interview them and you know, again, that was not wasted time. All of that stuff is why I could do it in two and a half months.

Jess:                                     25:50                    And it's why KJ, over and over again, insists that I'm not allowed to say, 'You know, boy, I got really lucky with Gift of Failure, right place, right time.' Well, no, it was a lot of work and it's that work that other people don't see.

KJ:                                        26:04                    Preparation meeting opportunity.

Jess:                                     26:06                    Yeah, exactly. There you go. There you go. The thing that I was really interested in - let's say you've got all of these letters, and you've got this idea about how you want to do this. In terms of organization, I really liked the way you organize the book and it was a little unexpected. I thought it was going to be like sequential, but you did a really interesting thing with the organization. I'm kinda wondering how you arrived at that particular sequence.

Nancy:                                26:37                    Welcome to my brain, cause I do think it's sequential. I knew that I wanted the introduction because (I'm not gonna give away the whole introduction) but basically when my dad got his letter (I wrote to him and my mom first) and my dad was very cute and called me and he's like, 'Aww, Nance, I loved it. I put it in a frame and it's over my desk.' So I knew I wanted to start with the fact that my dad had this letter framed and sitting over his desk. And then I figured I would need to go through exactly all the questions that Melissa asked me on the porch that day. Like, 'Who did you write to? How did you...' So there's a first chapter that's all about how you can organize this. And I want to say at the outset, throughout this book, I say, 'But that's what I did, do what you want.' Like nobody is in charge of your pace, what you write, who you write to. And the amazing thing about gratitude letters (as I found out from the researchers) is that even just thinking about what you would put in a letter creates happiness benefits for you. So it's all about firing the neurons and getting the positive outlook kind of codified within your brain pan. That's how I would explain it. So writing it down is great, but even if you read this book, and just think about the things that I'm talking about, people will get benefits. But then, after that section, the whole rest of the book is, here's the kinds of people who you might want to think about writing. And I think some of the categories are obvious - from friends and family. Although less obvious, because do you ever write a thank you letter to your spouse, or to your kid, or to your parent? Probably not. You know, there's a whole category of people that we take for granted and so that's kind of where I start. And part of the reason is because it gets the juices flowing for when you're writing the thank you letters, you know, you have a lot of source material for those people. But as I went through my own process and I just kept coming back to this idea of, okay, who helped me, shaped me, inspired me. Well, one of the people who helped me was my German ex-boyfriend when I lived in Germany and didn't know how to file taxes. It didn't work out with him. But man, he made sure my taxes were done every year on time and properly, and I wouldn't have been able to stay in Germany if I'd screwed up, their bureaucracy is on it. Like I'm sure they would've found me and sent me back to America. So I wrote a letter to him and this is when I figured out that I could write letters and not send them. Nobody needed to know that I was doing this. So I could write a thank you letter to anybody. I could write it to my childhood bully; I was so sensitized to bullying because I had been a victim of it, that my kids from the minute they started school, we talked about bullying. What do you do if you see it? What do you do? How do you help somebody going through it? How do you make sure you're never the perpetrator? You know, I'm not sure I would have been so tuned into that if I hadn't known this person. Now, that was a letter I actually chose not to write. That was one where I was like, 'You know what, I don't want to spend any more time on her.' But you could. And so, it was fun to kind of expand and so I did that in writing my own letters. But in writing the book, what I loved was thinking about, 'Well, who's going to read this? Could be anybody.' So what other things, like what's outside of my world, that I should think about and prompt people to write about. Like, I've never been in the army, but I made sure to say like, 'You might want to write a letter to your drill instructor.' You know, there's so many kinds of people, and I just tried really hard in writing it to have as an inclusive tone as I could. And I had a few people read it who had very different experiences from me, and that's what I asked them to read for. I wanted to make sure that someone who wasn't heterosexual would also feel like this book spoke to them and somebody who wasn't white would also feel...So I was at a conference that I had the chance to hear Aya de Leon, do you guys know her? She's a Bay area writer and professor. She writes these really great crime capers with African-American heroines. And a lot of times her heroines are sex workers and she's really about like, they're very feminist, but they kind of they have a message that's a little bit hidden.

Jess:                                     31:18                    I'm looking at the covers right now, they're so good. They're these women, sort of face forward at the camera, The Boss, and then another one called Side Chick Nation, and another one called Uptown Thief. They're fantastic covers, I love them. And really strong women with their shoulders back and sort of facing you like, yeah, bring it. I like it.

Nancy:                                31:40                    Right. And she's really smart. And at this conference I went to, she was just saying, 'If you want to write diverse character well, have diverse friends.' I just thought that's so obvious. But as writers, if you want to reach out to a diverse audience, make sure you've got those people in your real life so that you can go to them. And that was, again, my 13 years of preparation. I knew who I could ask to read for different things. And so that was a part of the review process.

Jess:                                     32:14                    One of the things that you said, you asked a lot of people who had experience outside of yours to help you, but the thing that you did really well in the book is to create these ideas about how you should think about the thank you notes. And one of the things you said was, 'Who or what has shaped me?' And that is such a personal question, but a question that is universal. Because as you said, it could be the ex-boyfriend that things didn't work out with. But everyone's got those people that you realize, Oh wow, I didn't actually thank that person. And it may not have been a particularly positive experience at the time, but that question alone right there, I think, makes the book nice and generalizes it for everyone. I love that question.

Nancy:                                32:56                    Well, and I hope that given that it's coming out before we start another presidential election year, people are so isolated and people are so quick to judge now, and maybe we always were, but it just feels different. And part of what I think these letters can do is remind us the small ways that people in our lives have helped us. Even if we were on opposite sides of a divide now, they've made a difference for us. And just sending those letters (or even if you write and it's not possible for you to send it) even writing it to remind yourself of the humanity of the people on the receiving end, I think is really powerful. So I'm glad it's coming out when it does, I hope it is helpful for people next year. I'm just really excited for it to come out. Can I say one thing? Because of this audience, I think I can share this. The one thing that I wanted to mention is that the same week that I got the book deal, my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma. And my mom's 86, and she's in an assisted living place, and she's got dementia. And they initially gave my mom a two and a half month...I was going to say sentence. That's what it felt like, they said that's how much time she has left. And it was awful, because on the same week I got this amazing news, I got horrible news. And I'm not going to leave you in suspense, Mom's doing fine, we took her to a specialist a few weeks later who kind of said, 'It's not nearly as dire as the first guy said and here's a bunch of treatment options.' And so mom is hanging in, she still loves John Denver, we talk a lot about John Denver. No, but it was a real exercise in compartmentalization. That's why I bring it up, because I knew I had to get this book done, and my siblings are amazing. I would have probably said like, 'I can just not do the book.' and they would have never forgiven me. So they're like, 'Figure out what your schedule is, come home if you can, and you'll get it done.' So the shitty first draft was done in six weeks, and I flew to Rochester to visit with my mom, and spent a week with her, came back, and then I finished the book after that. And the whole time I just had to keep these two things separate, because I could not have finished the book otherwise. And when it was over, I completely fell apart for a little while. And the irony was, writing the thank you notes again, writing about thank you notes, I got to kind of use them a second time in just the same way that I had the first time I wrote the letters. You know, to kind of say, 'My mom's got an X-Ray today, and we don't know what it's going to find, but Hey, I'm writing about how funny it was that time I wrote a letter to so-and-so.' If you think of writers sitting in a cabin somewhere, and having all their diversions taken away, and there's nothing but good whiskey and the sound of this pounding surf, I think that's b
****t. You know, you just have to write through what you have to write through. And I felt lucky to have the opportunity. Who's the biggest reader I know? My mom, you know, back when she could read, I was not going to let her down.

Jess:                                     36:39                    Is she pretty stoked for you?

Nancy:                                36:42                    She's pretty hilarious, my mother. She is stoked; she remembers that I have a book, that's landed somewhere, I don't think she knows what it's about. She's astonished that I told her I will bring her a book in person and hand deliver it to her. Well, she literally was the one who put the love of reading in me, so there you go.

KJ:                                        37:06                    I mean we'd all like that cabin, but you know, both Jess and I had big deadlines this year, and we both also had big personal stuff that our families overall prefer that we left as as family. But yeah, it's part of being a pro, and it's also just part of like embracing that part of who we are. It's like, you know, I'm a writer, I'm a writer with the sick parent. I'm a writer with whatever other problem that you have. But I'm a writer and this is what I'm doing now, and then in three hours I'll be doing something else. And I think you're so right to shout that out, because I know frequently I will sit there with my personal problems and with my deadline and go, 'Other people don't have to deal with this.' But honestly, yes they do.

Jess:                                     38:07                    Yeah. There were plenty of times going towards this deadline where I would hang up the phone having dealt with some of the personal stuff that was going on, and just take a couple of really deep breaths, maybe have a good cry, and then turn on my monitor, and get back to work.

Nancy:                                38:21                    Did you both feel like the writing part was like safe haven? Because that's how I felt. And then I was writing from like five to seven in the morning, cause I still had the day job. But I was like jumping out of bed cause I knew the next two hours I'll be happy.

KJ:                                        38:39                    Having the abiity to focus on it - like having spent, (you've been talking about putting in the work) having spent the past decade or more, turning stuff off, and turning to the keyboard or the paper or whatever, and saying, 'You know I got to get this.' So having that practice, the ability to just shut everything else down and focus on it, I've been so grateful - past-me for teaching present-me to do that. So thank you letter to her, I guess.

Jess:                                     39:13                    It was also really nice for me occasionally to not feel guilty. You know, I feel like when other people need me or I'm supposed to be feeling a certain way about something, it's nice to have a pass to say, 'Nope, I can't do that. I can't spend emotional attention on that right now because this has to happen.' I have this deadline, so I get to turn that off for a minute and not feel guilty about feeling bad for someone else while I can focus on the words. And so for me, it was an incredible safe haven. It was license for me to focus on something else that really was about what I love doing. And if I hadn't had that, I think it would have been an even more challenging summer than it was. But this really gave me a way out of that.

Nancy:                                40:02                    So the message is for writers, if you're having a terrible time, try writing, maybe that will cheer you up.

Jess:                                     40:08                    Well, but we do have to move on to what we've been reading because we're running over, so let's talk about what we've been reading. Nancy, would you like to tell us?

Nancy:                                40:33                    Yes. So I was visiting my mom two weeks ago, and even if she can't read anymore, she still demands that we do. And in the assisted living place, there's a giant bookcase outside her apartment, and she always makes me take a book when we go by, just take one. They don't care, just take one. So I grabbed one off the top. It was The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, which was a 2013 national book winner that I finally got to in 2019, it's been out for a while. Oh my gosh, I loved it so much. I actually just finished it last night. Ironically, one of the small characters in the book is the main character in my historical fiction novel in a drawer. So I think maybe that's why I avoided it. I didn't want to see him be alive in somebody else's book. But oh, it was fantastic. It was like Mark Twain on steroids. I loved it. It's all about John Brown and Harper's Ferry. I love abolitionist. You know, abolition is lit. And it's really, really well done. It's a fun story.

Jess:                                     41:34                    Yeah, that shelf in the bookstore, it's the popular one, The Abolition Is Lit shelf. I have a whole shelf on fishing in New England in the 1850s or so. That's a whole section in my library cause I'm obsessed with the whole Gloucester, fishermen thing. That's a thing for me. I'm still reading away on some of the stuff that's on my Audible. But I will say, that I just found out and I had mentioned this before, that when I am writing stuff, I like to reread things that are comforting, and I had been relistening to a whole bunch of Jane Austen and I just found out that there is a recording of Sense and Sensibility with Kate Winslet. And so that is going to be a evening listen for me.

KJ:                                        42:33                    We have recorded multiple episodes this week and I am out, but I have already shouted out the What Should I Read Next? Podcast, but I have to shout it out again. So it's What Should I Read Next? With Anne Bogle, who some might know as the Modern Mrs. Darcy, she's had a blog for a long time. So I listened to an episode of this podcast earlier this week and I ended up downloading samples of four different books and they only talked about like eight. Somebody goes on and says, 'These are the books I like and this is what I'd like to read next.' And it's just such an incredible joy. So, try the podcast and I guarantee that you will come away with something to read, even if I can't suggest anything at the moment. Yeah, it's a really good one.

Jess:                                     43:34                    Alright, Nancy, do you have a bookstore you love?

Nancy:                                43:38                    I very much have a bookstore I love, it's called A Great Good Place for Books, here in Oakland up in the Montclair neighborhood. And Kathleen Caldwel,l who owns it, is the neighborhood treasurer. Everybody's kid has worked at that bookstore at some point. And she pays them in books and it's just fantastic. In fact, Great Good Place is doing my launch party, which is on December 3rd, and she's just one of those people you walk in the door and she says, 'Oh, Nancy, I knew you were coming in this week, so I've put aside three books for you.' And my favorite story about her was the time I ordered Skippy Dies, it's very dark Irish boarding school, it's like a comedy tragedy. It's an amazing book. And she sold my husband a gift card for me for Christmas, cause that's what I get every Christmas. Andrew, if you're listening, I need a gift card. And I took it in and I said, 'Okay, I want to get Skippy Dies.' And she said, 'Well, I'm going to order you the three part version of the book.' And I said, 'I think it's just a novel. I've been reading reviews, it's one book.' And she goes, 'Oh, it's so much cooler when it comes in the case. So I'm going to get you this. And I know how much is on your gift card, you can afford it.' So I love Kathleen, she is always hustling for those authors. She brings in great, great authors for readings and yeah, so if you're in Oakland check out Great Good Place For Books.

Jess:                                     45:08                    Alright, everyone needs to run right out and get The Thank You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time by Nancy Davis Kho. It is going to make such a good gift, that's my plan (sorry, spoiler alert to everyone who's getting presents for me this year) that's what you're getting. So get excited to read this book, it's fantastic. So congratulations on your long path to publication and thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Nancy:                                45:35                    Thank you guys so much for having me. And everybody out there - keep writing, you're on the path, you're doing it.

Jess:                                     45:39                    And in order to do that, everyone has to keep their butt in the chair and their head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Nov 29 2019

46mins

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186 #TheJoyofHolidayRomCom

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We wanted to talk holiday writing—as in, writing ABOUT holidays, not writing during the holidays. So we went strolling through the holly-bedecked halls of the Internet—because, #dominantculture, holiday books as they appear without a more specific web search means Christmas books and specifically, the 250 page equivalent of a bonbon of a Lifetime Christmas movie. We found Natalie Cox, author of the debut romcom Mutts and Mistletoe. And then we found that Natalie Cox is also Betsy Tobin, author of five other novels, co-owner of a bookshop in North London and just generally appearing to live an authorial dream life.

So of course we invited her on to talk about not just holiday writing, but switching genres, the real meaning of “debut” and whether or not owning a bookstore in London is as much fun as it sounds like it would be. Links from the episode (which was itself as much fun as it sounds like it would be) follow.

As for writing DURING the holidays, if you’re a supporter, you can check out the Top 5 Hacks for Holiday Writing—and if you’re not, why not? Give yourself a little holiday giftie and us a little holiday boost clicking the button below to support the podcast you love, get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice and occasional bonus #MiniSupporter podcasts for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

To support the podcast and help it stay free, subscribe to our weekly #WritersTopFive email.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Betsy:

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

KJ:

Beside Herself, Elizabeth LaBan

Sarina:

Reindeer Falls, Book 1: The Boss Who Stole Christmas, Jana Aston

Reindeer Falls, Book 2: If You Give a Jerk a Gingerbread, Jana Aston

Reindeer Falls, Book 3: The One Night Stand Before Christmas, Jana Aston

#FaveIndieBookstore

INK@84

Our guest for this episode is Betsy Tobin, aka Natalie Cox. Find more about her at BetsyTobin.co.uk.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                        00:02                    Hey there listeners, it's KJ. What with Jess starting in on a new project lately, we've been talking a lot about nonfiction and research. If that's your kind of work, our sponsor, Author Accelerator can help and you don't have to go all in with full on book coaching if you're not ready. Check out their new four week long nonfiction framework program that will help you nail down your structure before you start to write, or after your writing and realizing, dang, this thing needs a backbone. Authors of self-help, how-to, and academic texts will find the shape of their books, create a working one page summary that helps reveal that shape at a glance, and develop a flexible table of contents to guide you through the drafting and revision process. You can find a lot more, including previews of much of the material, by going to authoraccelerator.com/nonfictionframework. Is it recording?

Jess:                                     01:00                    Now it's recording.

KJ:                                        01:01                    Yay.

Jess:                                     01:02                    Go ahead.

KJ:                                        01:03                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone and try to remember what I'm supposed to be doing.

Jess:                                     01:07                    Alright, let's start over.

KJ:                                        01:08                    Awkward pause and I'm going to rustle some papers.

Jess:                                     01:11                    Okay.

KJ:                                        01:11                    Now, one, two, three. Hey, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting. #AmWriting is our weekly podcast about writing all the things - fiction, nonfiction, book proposals, essays, pitches, and as we say every week, this is the podcast about getting the work done.

Sarina:                                 01:40                    And I'm Sarina Bowen, the author of 30 plus romance novels. And you can find more of me at sarinabowen.com. I am KJ Dell'Antonia, author of a novel coming out next summer. Also of How To Be a Happier Parent, former lead editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times and all of the other things that I say every week. And our usual cohost, Jess Lahey, is missing this week. Sarina and I are soloing, but we have a guest. In fact, you could argue that we have three guests. We are going to talk today with Betsy Tobin, who is the author of five books of literary fiction/mystery/I'm not even quite sure how to describe it. Natalie Cox, the author of a new romcom, which is called Mutts and Mistletoe, it's a holiday theme and it is incredibly fun. And the co-owner of the Ink@84 bookstore bar cafe in North London. Conveniently, however, all of these guests are wrapped up into the same person. It's just going to make it much easier to ask questions.

Sarina:                                 02:52                    Of course. So welcome, Betsy.

Betsy:                                  02:54                    Gosh, with an intro like that it's going to be hard not to disappoint. I'll do my best. I'll do my best to be three people in one. Thank you very much. And also 30 books, my goodness. Respect, Sarina. That's amazing, respect.

KJ:                                        03:08                    So I'm going to just own it all for our listeners (as we do every week) which is that originally we thought, you know what would be really fun? It'd be fun to talk to somebody who wrote a book with a holiday theme. Because have you ever written a book with a holiday theme?

Sarina:                                 03:27                    Undeveloped, but barely.

KJ:                                        03:29                    Right, but barely. I've written many an essay with the holiday theme, and many a gift guide with a holiday theme, many a freelance thing, but I've not done a book. So that was our original thought. So we, we sort of went looking around to see who would be interesting and came across Natalie Cox's debut romcom author of Mutts and Mistletoe. And reached out to her only to discover that she is scarcely a debut author at all. So while I hope to get to the use of the holiday and the trope and the fun that is all involved in that, we really want to start with, Betsy, get us to this point. Walk us through if you don't mind.

Betsy:                                  04:17                    How did I start writing?

KJ:                                        04:19                    Yeah, how did you start writing? Let's start there.

Betsy:                                  04:23                    My very first foray into writing was that I took an evening class in journalism and the teacher told me that my style was too literary. And he really sort of slightly took the wind out of my sails. I was in my mid-twenties and I thought this might be a great career. So I went and did an autobiographical essay writing course and the very first exercise that that teacher set was to write a brief story about your life that incorporated a lie and try to make the juncture between the lie and the truth totally seamless. And I thought that was a really fantastic exercise.

KJ:                                        05:19                    That is an interesting exercise. And one I've never heard.

Betsy:                                  05:23                    Yeah. I mean, one that it would never have occurred to me to write fiction. And I didn't really grow up in a family where there were any kind of artists or people working in creative industries. We were kind of quite rational type people. And I thought I was going to have a career in a rational kind of occupation. And I don't think I would've had the courage to write fiction until he set this exercise. And immediately I just found it incredibly liberating, because you could make it all up. And to be honest, that was it, I mean I just never looked back from there. I started writing short fiction. I went and did an MFA. I did work briefly when I first moved to London as a reporter. Eventually I was really rubbish at it. I wasn't thick-skinned enough.

Betsy:                                  06:13                    And I knew it was just a matter of time before I kind of was able to get myself in a position to write fiction. So that's kind of how it happened. I thought initially I would write plays and scripts. But I struggled early on with the pacing of longer format prose fiction. I wrote a lot of short stories and it was a mystery to me how you pace a novel and then suddenly I kind of cracked it in one go where I wrote something and I looked at it and I thought, 'Oh my goodness, this is not a short story. This is a novel.' And I remember, cause I left the first, like eight or nine pages lying on my desk and my husband kind of wandered by and read it and he sort of came to me and he said, 'You know, what is this?' And I said, 'I'm not sure, but I think it's a novel.' And he said, 'I think it's a novel, too.' And that was my first book, Bone House, which did very well. It sold in the U.S., and the UK, and abroad, and was optioned for film.

KJ:                                        07:13                    And that was what, about 2008?

Betsy:                                  07:16                    Gosh, no, it was published in more like 2000.

KJ:                                        07:23                    I was on Amazon and saw probably what is the latest edition.

Betsy:                                  07:27                    That could be, yeah. And I kind of never looked back from there. It did well. I mean it wasn't a bestseller. I've never had what I would say was a huge rating success. I've had critical successes. That book was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize, unfortunately up against Zadie Smith, who has since gone on to glittering careers.

Betsy:                                  07:50                    But yeah, it kind of put me on the map as a writer. It got me an agent. I wrote another historical novel after that. Then I wrote a third book was mythic/historical. I kind of turned to myth and I looked at the Norse body of literature.

KJ:                                        08:11                    How much time is it taking?

Betsy:                                  08:12                    So for literary fiction, I would say three years for me. That's definitely what it takes for me to write a novel. And you need about a year where the idea is bubbling along and gestating. And also those novels were very heavily researched, all of them actually. So it took quite a long time to be able to start writing. Although research is something that I use all the way through the writing process. I'm a great fan of using it as a kickstarter for creativity. Anytime somebody comes to me saying they've got writer's block that's probably my single biggest tip is just, you know, plunge yourself into some research on the background of what you're writing. And it's those tiny details that you uncover that will kickstart your creativity and get you going again. So yeah, I eventually wrote five novels.

KJ:                                        09:08                    And the fifth one was a bit of a departure too...

Betsy:                                  09:11                    That was a comic novel. It was the first thing I'd written based on my own kind of personal history a little bit...

KJ:                                        09:22                    So that one is called Things We Couldn't Explain.

Betsy:                                  09:26                    That one's called Things We Couldn't Explain. When I first started writing in the UK, I'd only lived over here for about five years and I didn't feel comfortable writing about contemporary Britain. And equally, I was starting to feel a little bit out of touch with the U.S. So I ended up setting my first novel in the distant past. And I felt like that was a middle ground where my readership and I would be on the same sort of footing. We'd all be kind of equally unfamiliar with the terrain.

KJ:                                        10:00                    I had never thought of that. Although, you know, Sarina sets her books kind of around here and somewhere else that she's lived. And the novel that I've got coming out is set where I grew up and I'm just now doing one for living around here. And I've lived here for about 10 years and I had the same thought. Can I really? You know, I ended up writing about a newcomer to the area because that felt better. People don't really talk about that, how hard it is.

Betsy:                                  10:27                    You have to feel comfortable in the skin of your novel. And then the setting is the skin. And if you're not comfortable sitting in the skin of it, you just won't approach it with confidence. I wrote a lot about identity and displacement in my literary fiction for years. That was kind of a theme that just cropped up over, and over, and over. My fourth novel, Crimson China, was about illegal Chinese migrants living in the UK and I think it is because I was a displaced person. And so I was struggling with that sense of identity and belonging and what happens to your sense of identity when you're taken out of the place of your birth and taken away from your family, and your friends, and the culture that you know. So that was a really big theme for me. And the novel that is set in Ohio was the only thing I'd ever written that was really tapped into my own background. So it was quite close to my heart, actually. So this segues deeply into the holiday issue, because that fifth novel came out in November. And the publisher I was with at the time was very, very big on digital publishing. It was sort of the heyday of digital and digital has come off the boil a bit since then in more recent years. But at the time, she was convinced that there was a lot of money to be made with eBooks. She did a lot of other much, much more commercial fiction and I watched her commercial fiction authors soar right past me in the digital charts that November, December, particularly with the holiday books. While my book kind of languished somewhere in the high tens of thousands in the rankings.

KJ:                                        12:23                    Tell me when this was.

Betsy:                                  12:25                    This would have been probably about five, six years ago.

KJ:                                        12:32                    Right. I think Things We Couldn't Explain was 2014. So you already have sort of a fun commercial read, but it's just not doing what you hoped it would do.

Betsy:                                  12:47                    No, and what I would say is My first impulse for writing a holiday book was envy. I absolutely, you know, had envy of watching all of these holiday books, many of which frankly, I read some, I wasn't very impressed. My daughter and I were big fans of romcom. She's in her kind of mid twenties. We looked at each other and we said, 'We could do this, we could do so much better.' And of course it's not, it's deceptively difficult to get it right. And we were far too overconfident, but that said, we did sit down and we came up with a concept which was the doggy, the canine rom-com concept. And we set out to do it and I wrote it. She helped me with some of the plotting. She's a great sort of reality check for me as a writer. She sees through the holes in everything, really - plot, character, theme. So I use her as a sounding board a lot for my writing.

KJ:                                        13:52                    How old is your daughter?

Betsy:                                  13:52                    She's in her mid twenties now

KJ:                                        13:57                    As is the main character in Mutts and Mistletoe.

Betsy:                                  14:00                    Yes, exactly. So yeah, so we sat down to that and then I wrote about 50 pages of it. And then I got very interested in the idea of opening the bookshop and I shelved that book and really for the next three years did nothing but find and open the shop, which really sucked up kinda 200% of my energy. And when the shop was up and running for I would say two and a half years probably, I was ready to go back to writing. And I went back to this 50 pages that I had written, which really I had just done on a lark. It was nothing more than a lark. And I honestly thought I would probably self-publish it myself, digitally only. And I mentioned it to my agent. I have a wonderful UK agent who I'm very loyal to, I've been with from the beginning. And she said, 'Show it to me.' And I knew she didn't really handle that sort of material normally, but I sent it to her and the agency read it, they all loved it. They were like, 'You must write this.' So I did. I wrote that over the next say year, it probably didn't take me more than about another six to nine months to finish. And that was how Mutts was born. It's done really well, it won romantic comedy of the year here in the UK, and it's sold all over really, all over Europe, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia. I never dreamed that it would be as successful as it's been.

Betsy:                                  15:57                    You know, literary fiction is incredibly laborious. You agonize over every word, every sentence, every phrasing. You know, Mutts and Mistletoe, you're basically trying to get all the elements that you normally tackle as a writer - story, character, setting. But you're basically also just trying to make it really funny. And so it's just such a laugh, you know, I just giggle all the way through writing this stuff. And you look at every page and you think, how can I make this more funny and what would be funnier, and that's really the challenge is kind of just keeping the jokes coming. I don't think you have a joke in every paragraph, but you just have to put your funny hat on and just wear it while you're writing. And it's a joy to be honest, compared to the other form.

KJ:                                        16:56                    But you also have a really strong structure.

Betsy:                                  17:02                    I think you have to absolutely. You have to adhere, with all writing. You have to play by the rules. I mean, there's meta fiction and some writers can bend the rules, but for most readers we need to have the elements. You have to have your ducks in line, you have to have a strong story, you have to have a strong starting proposition with a protagonist that has a problem or a need, and they're gonna they have to have an arc. All the rules adhere, there's no bending of the rules for any of this stuff. You can't take shortcuts. And I know this because I've tried to do things in a more freestyle manner and where it all just didn't work because you didn't follow the rules. And I think even a seasoned writer can fall at that hurdle if you don't pay attention. I think character is totally the single biggest driver of making compelling read. I think characters drive all good stories. And yeah, you have to have a kind of structure, ideally a kind of three act structure, and you have to have a character who learns or grows or changes. I'm a great believer in happy endings. You know, I think audiences want those.

KJ:                                        18:43                    Well, you have those things very cleanly. Many writers have those things but have a lot of noise around them. And in your case, I think you found them very cleanly and it made me wonder if you had a structure that you sort of wrote around or if that just came naturally to you.

Betsy:                                  19:05                    I'm not a great one for planning out all the story in advance, I guess the phrase a pants writer.

Sarina:                                 19:17                    Oh yes, we use that phrase.

Betsy:                                  19:19                    I think I probably am a pants writer. It's not necessarily something I recommend. What I would say is that as much as I'm somebody who doesn't plan everything in advance, I'm utterly meticulous about writing and rewriting. And to be honest, most of my published work, most pages have been edited a hundred times.

KJ:                                        19:51                    Wow.

Sarina:                                 19:51                    Wow.

Betsy:                                  19:52                    Yeah. And I know that sounds obsessive, but that's the sort of writer I am.

KJ:                                        19:57                    No, it sounds great. I'm a noisy writer to use the metaphor or whatever that I was just using, which is there tends to be a lot of stuff around my bones and I need to have less stuff around my bones. And it's kinda reassuring to hear that you're peeling stuff away as opposed to never putting it down, which certainly sounds like a simpler way to do it to me. But unfortunately I can't get there.

Betsy:                                  20:19                    I mean, I think it means that you won't produce work as fast if you're that fastidious. And I think in commercial fiction the industry demands a certain pace of writers. And I think I'm not able to meet that pace. I'm sure my publishers would say that. But that's just me. I'm afraid I just can't not do it the way I want to do it. And I'm not prepared to put a sentence out until it's perfect.

Sarina:                                 20:47                    One thing you said about characters really stuck with me. Because a few minutes ago you were saying you have to really turn on the funny and you know, be funny on every page if you're writing a comedy. But that's so much harder if you don't have a character who can give that to you through all of her flaws and misperceptions of the world, then you just have to spontaneously be funny. Whereas if you have a character who is really set in her ways, then the comedy is easier to find because it's...

Betsy:                                  21:20                    Absolutely, it has to be character driven. All the comedy has to be character driven and situation driven. It's not like you're making jokes leap off the page in and of themselves. You're pulling the comic material out of your characters and what's happening to them. It's like you're birthing it.

Sarina:                                 21:38                    I had a couple of questions for you about this book specifically. So one is, did you ever just get sick of Christmas, you know, when you were editing the hundredth time in August or whatever where you're just like, 'Ugh'?

Betsy:                                  21:54                    I dunno, I mean, I think one of the things - my character is this kind of Scrooge-like character and part of her journey is that she has to learn to love Christmas. So I was able to kind of feed both sides of that debate. It's a book that serves both Christmas lovers and Christmas haters, I think. For that reason. So it was quite amusing to kind of look at the dark side of the holidays. It amused me anyway. To be honest, Christmas became a setting, right? So, yes, it has fantastic comic potential. It has all these iconic tropes and symbols. But really what it was, was a setting and that's how you have to approach it was that you're going to set your novel in a biscuit factory. There's going to be all kinds of comedy that flows from the shop floor. In that way, Christmas was the biscuit factory setting for this. There are writers who make their career out of holiday books. Gosh, more power to them. They're the ones that you should probably be putting that question to are the ones that are writing them year, after year, after year. I'm not writing a holiday book at the moment. I wouldn't rule one out again though, cause I didn't even plumb all the depths of the comic possibilities for Christmas with that first one. I think it's rich terrain for comedy, so I could see me going back to it.

Sarina:                                 23:34                    So then my other question involves just a really practical thing about about writing a holiday book. So my first published book, practically another lifetime ago, is a winter-themed cookbook and it is very winter-themed. The sales for that book (it's 10 years old now) they look like a sign wave on the author portal. They peak right at Christmas and then they bucket in July. And I'm just curious if fiction is expected to do the same thing or not.

Betsy:                                  24:12                    It absolutely does the same thing. But that's the other beauty of writing seasonal stuff is that there's a readily identifiable market for it, which is why publishers love it. And you know, your cookbook might have died a very quick death decades ago or years ago, had you not had that seasonal hook that brings it back and makes it relevant again in the marketplace each year. I'm a great believer in, you know, I don't believe the world owes us a living as writers. And I think we have to write stuff that people want to read. So I'm sort of quite business minded as a writer. And and I think you need to do the publisher's job for them a little bit when you want to sell a prospective title because you have to be able to identify what the market's going to be. So yeah, I think whereas novels, (and I know this because I'm a book seller) the shelf life of a hardback is something like six weeks to three months. And after that they get sent back. And the shelf life of a paperback is 18 months. And after that, you know, unless you're a bestseller, or a prize winner, or an evergreen your book will be gone. And you know, that's just the reality. Whereas seasonal titles, actually, I think there is an upswing year after year for the best ones.

KJ:                                        25:49                    So, wait. Do you put them in a box in the shop and put them aside or do you send them back and then get some new ones?

Betsy:                                  25:56                    We send them back when we get new ones. We're ruthless.

KJ:                                        26:00                    Isn't that funny - you're both the author who's like, 'No, hold on to my book and the bookseller who's like, 'Nope, sorry.'

Betsy:                                  26:08                    It's awful. Authors don't want to know how much gets sent back. I don't know if the retail industry works quite the same way in the U.S. but books are one of the only areas of retail that are full sale or return or at least partial sale or return. You know, that doesn't happen in the clothing industry, right? The stores don't get to send the merchandise back if it doesn't sell. And so yeah, we are ruthless about culling titles that languish on our shelves.

KJ:                                        26:42                    Do you think that's part of why you're going back in for another romcom or do you think it has more to do with sort of where you are in life and what you want to write or is it some combination therein and that it would be hard to tease out?

Betsy:                                  26:55                    I think it has to do with the fact that I have a two book deal with Orion in the UK and I'm contracted to produce another one. Also, I have the pressure of my agents saying to me, 'Gosh, we have these 12 foreign publishers...', So I was under pressure, both because I'm legally obliged to write one for Orion, but in fact Orion gave me the opportunity to segue into more comic literary fiction last year. And it was really my agent who said, 'Gosh, you know, we've got these 12 publishers queued up.' Mutts is only coming out for the first time in all those markets cause it took a year to translate it. So they're the ones that are going to come knocking on our door in January or February saying, 'Oh, what about the next one?'

KJ:                                        27:52                    When was the decision made to write Mutts under a new name?

Betsy:                                  27:56                    Do you mean Natalie?

KJ:                                        28:00                    Yeah.

Betsy:                                  28:01                    Right, sorry. Okay. At the point of sale for publication, the agents, I said to them, 'What about my brand?' And they said, 'We'll sell you as a debut.' And that is what goes on in the industry. I don't know that it's the best thing. I don't know necessarily that it did me any favors as an author, but publishers of course are always looking for debuts. There's an absolute mystique in the industry about making the next big discovery. So it's easier for agents to sell debuts. So I was sold as a debut romcom writer with the caveat that it was a pseudonym for someone who had written in another genre. So publishers at the point of bidding were told that I was an existing writer.

Betsy:                                  29:02                    They weren't told who I was, but I was sold as a debut. Does that make sense?

KJ:                                        29:10                    Yes, it does. It's a crazy system.

Betsy:                                  29:12                    It is crazy indeed. So now I have fiendish social media cause I have social media under Betsy, and I have social media under Natalie, and I also do all the social media for the bookshop. So I'm constantly toggling between Facebook and Instagram and Twitter on all three accounts and kind of posting the wrong thing from the wrong account and getting into trouble. So that's what ended up with, I don't know how desirable it is for me as a writer. One thing I would say is that this has a different title in Britain than it does in the U.S. and that is something I will never repeat again because that was even more of a nightmare publishing two...

KJ:                                        29:56                    What is it called in Britain?

Betsy:                                  29:57                    So in Britain, we have a really famous dog charity rescue charity, a nationwide adoption center called The Dog's Trust. And their motto is 'Dogs are for life, not just for Christmas.' It's very, very famous. It's a famous enough charity that pretty much everyone knows that line dogs life. And so my editor from day one was determined to call it Not Just for Christmas. And of course it's not a title that works at all well in the U.S., it doesn't play in America. It's not a title I wanted particularly, but it certainly works very well in this territory. I I was worried about it elsewhere and I was worried about the idea of books going out with different titles. The same book going out and it was a bit of a problem, I had kind of angry readers saying...

KJ:                                        30:56                    I have as a reader, bought the same book twice.

Betsy:                                  30:58                    Yes, exactly.

KJ:                                        31:00                    Because I liked it so much one of the times and I thought, 'Oh, it's a different one.'

Betsy:                                  31:05                    Yeah. I had irate readers kind of emailing me saying 'Who would do that?' And it didn't help that Amazon in the U.S. had both editions up. Anyway, it was a nightmare. So that's how I ended up as Natalie Cox. Gosh, Natalie was the name of my old dog, so that was a nod towards her. And Natalie's three syllables and I knew I needed a really short three letter surname for the cover. So it was either Dicks or Cox. Fox was taken. I actually did try Fox. My publisher said there was some other writer publishing under that name. So yeah, that's how I ended up with Natalie Cox.

KJ:                                        32:02                    And the next one will be Natalie Cox.

Betsy:                                  32:03                    Yes, this is a romcom under Natalie Cox, absolutely. And it also involves a very large dog. It's a similar kind of book, similar voice, similar tone. It's about a woman who's fed up with her life, she's got a list of problems, and she just wants to run away from it all until someone steals her identity. And then she wants her life back.

KJ:                                        32:28                    Oh, that's good.

Betsy:                                  32:34                    So I'm busily beavering away at that at the moment. I'm hoping to deliver that in the spring. So we will see. I do like dogs, I'm a big dog fan. I definitely discovered that almost like Christmas, there's almost an identifiable readership of people who want books about dogs.

KJ:                                        32:54                    There absolutely is.

Sarina:                                 32:55                    Yes, that is true. In fact, in 2017, one of my publishers said, 'These are the pitches we want next from you. It has to be dogs, or Alaska, or cowboys.'

Betsy:                                  33:08                    Oh my God, that is hilarious. All three of those are great!

KJ:                                        33:13                    An Alaskan cowboy dog would just walk us straight.

Betsy:                                  33:19                    Oh, I would love to write any of those, that sounds fantastic. So did you write that? Did you write that book back then?

Sarina:                                 33:37                    No, I didn't because I just didn't want to. And it was also said to me like this, 'This is what Walmart wants.'

Betsy:                                  33:47                    Oh wow. Okay.

Sarina:                                 33:48                    And I thought, you know what...I didn't want to plan my life that way.

Betsy:                                  33:54                    No, and I agree. While I did make that comment about not writing in a vacuum and understanding what the market is for your books, I don't think you should let the tail wag the dog.

KJ:                                        34:06                    Well, there's a difference.

Sarina:                                 34:07                    Yeah. There's a difference between having an eye on it and letting it run your life. Also, you mentioned digital and so that made me curious. And as a bookseller, I bet this is something you keep an eye on, but is the digital sales ratio of your romcom higher than your literary fiction?

Betsy:                                  34:29                    Well, I haven't looked at the figures, but broadly I would say yes. I mean, the thing about digital is we have pretty good understanding of what digital reading habits are now. And they do tend to be in certain genres - so mystery and commercial women's fiction, particularly romance, romance and mystery I'd say are probably two of the biggest consumers of digital. And you know, these are people who are super fans, they're veracious readers, they're constantly looking for new sources of supply, they need to source their books cheaply because they're reading so much. So gosh, what was the question?

Sarina:                                 35:18                    I was just curious. So I'm very familiar with this concept because I'm about 98% digital. Or actually, if I put audio in there it wouldn't be 98 it would be more like 85. But also where is the line? So I have friends who do sort of book club women's fiction who are running at about 50/50 digital. And I was just sort of thinking that your book also looks like that midpoint between something that would be strictly a romance and a commercial women's fiction.

Betsy:                                  35:55                    Well, what I would say in the U.S. for the Natalie Cox book, is that they have not pushed it digitally at all and they've priced it very, very high because I think they really want to shift paper copies. And so I've looked at my digital numbers and they're incredibly low. I would say below 5%. I mean I think that this title has legs digitally and I assume that they will eventually tap into that and market it digitally and price it to sell digitally. But at the moment they're still not doing that. In fact, I can't see from here what the digital prices in the U.S. are.

KJ:                                        36:38                    It's $14.99 I think. It's quite high. And I just want to say it was super fun, I had a totally fun evening read. And I honestly wouldn't have done it if I did not also want to read it.

Betsy:                                  37:31                    You totally could've winged it.

KJ:                                        37:44                    But I wanted to read it.

Betsy:                                  37:46                    Thank you. You will be my one digital sale in America this week. Next week, when I look at my sales figures it will literally say two copies sold and you'll be one of them. I think Putnam really wants...they've got a lot of physical copies out there and they want people to buy those. And that's why it's been priced the way it has. I assume that in years to come that part of their marketing plan...

KJ:                                        38:12                    You know the worst part? I could've gotten the British edition for $3.99.

Betsy:                                  38:18                    No, you're not allowed to.

KJ:                                        38:20                    I could, I could do it right now. I have buy with one click.

Betsy:                                  38:25                    But I thought they weren't allowed to. So there's copyright constraints that prevent you from buying digitally.

KJ:                                        38:34                    It's priced in pounds.

Betsy:                                  38:37                    Kindle should throw it out.

KJ:                                        38:39                    Oh, you know what? I'm on the UK site cause I went to it from your website.

Sarina:                                 38:46                    So when your new book comes out and there's doing the still the whole paper push maybe you can get them to do a BookBub deal.

Betsy:                                  38:58                    Yeah, absolutely. I'm certainly about to press my UK publisher on a BookBub deal because unlike the U.S. they aren't bringing out another edition. They're not pushing it into shops this Christmas. And it absolutely should be. They should be marketing it more aggressively in the UK. The U.S., I've just looked, they've got like 40,000 paper copies out in shops.

KJ:                                        39:21                    And the kind of amazing thing is that because I knew we were interviewing you and I've been in one airport bookstores and one non-airport bookstore looking at the holiday. And to be honest, I didn't see it. It wasn't on the holiday.

Betsy:                                  39:35                    Well that is disappointing. This is the ultra mass market addition though, so those are only certain types of outlets I assume in the U.S.

KJ:                                        39:44                    I was primarily in airport bookstores. I was in one indie bookstore, the one owned by Ann Patchett, actually. Speaking of author bookstores.

Betsy:                                  39:53                    She came and signed copies at my shop.

KJ:                                        39:56                    Well, darn it, she needs to be stocking your book.

Betsy:                                  39:59                    So last year, with the trade paperback, that was a book that definitely was in Barnes and Noble and some of the independents. This year, with this new mass market edition I don't know which outlets stock these kinds of books that are priced at this very low price point, $7.99, I was very impressed with that. I assume it's more supermarkets, Walmart, that sort of thing.

KJ:                                        40:30                    The airports had a few, but they were big name.

Sarina:                                 40:34                    Also, American airport bookstores hate romance. There's nothing with even a whiff of romance in airport bookstores.

Betsy:                                  40:42                    And to be honest, I would not have expected to be in the U.S. airport, actually. That's sad, but I can live with that. There are 40,000 copies out there but they're not in airports, but that's okay. I'm okay with that. Maybe my people aren't travelers, you know, maybe they're not travelers.

KJ:                                        41:12                    I have one last question, but it might be a long one. I'm sure it's one that many of our listeners are wondering, 'Wait, wait, do I want to run a bookstore?' Sarina and I are always reminding each other that we don't, in fact, want to run a bookstore. So tell us.

Betsy:                                  41:30                    Well, what do I say about running a bookstore? It's a little bit like owning a dog. I always liked owning a dog to having a perpetual toddler, you know, one that never grows up. With that level of commitment, and responsibility, and supervision. And I think running a small business, a customer facing business, it's open seven days a week, trading 70 hours. Yeah, it's the same sort of thing. It's like having a perpetual toddler. It's a lot of work. It's very full on, I have a business partner. We don't staff the shop, but we run it, we manage it ourselves from our laptops, mostly remotely. Although I certainly am in the shop. If I'm in London, I'm in the shop most days at least for a couple of hours to sort of oversee things. And it's terrific fun. I can't undersell that.

KJ:                                        42:19                    That's not what we wanted to hear.

Betsy:                                  42:20                    I mean it is absolutely incredibly fun, but like any small businesses, it is a lot of hard work. And we are very much a DIY business. We do everything ourself. We do all our bookkeeping, we do all our social media, we do our website, we curate by hand. You know, we're very hands-on for two people who aren't physically there all the time. But I travel a fair amount and so I can run the business from my laptop pretty much wherever I go. And it works and our customers love it and they're incredibly grateful that we're there. So they're happy to support us and are happy to pay full cover price. We never discount anything, we're ruthless about that. I just turned away a customer this afternoon for a book by someone I really, really dislike. When he asked why we didn't have it I said, 'Because we didn't buy it in, because we hate him.' And I said, 'I can order it for you, but can I just sell you something else?' It's done. So I talked him into buying something else. I said, 'His ex wife's book is out next year and it's much worth the wait for that.' He's an odious you would think. That's what you get to do when you run a bookshop. That's a terrible thing, I shouldn't be saying this.

Sarina:                                 43:40                    It's hilarious.

KJ:                                        43:41                    It's hilarious. Yes, we're all over this bookshop.

Betsy:                                  43:46                    In fairness, that customer did look down and he spotted a slim volume by Niche and he said, 'Well, if that's your standard then you shouldn't be stocking this either.' Absolutely, we get to choose. It's really fun owning the shop and it's incredibly gratifying and it's lovely not to be just facing a keyboard all day.

KJ:                                        44:14                    And now you make it sound fun. That's terrible, we didn't need that. Well, this is a great segue into what we've been reading. So have you read anything good lately?

Betsy:                                  44:25                    So I have just read this book and I'm going to forget the author. U.S. book called Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. So this book, my 28-year-old son, his girlfriend loaned me her copy. It was a bit of a sleeper success for us in the bookshop. It was published here by Bloomsbury, I'm not sure who published it in the U.S. and we didn't really clock it initially on our radar in the shop until it started to kind of sell. I had all these kind of mid-30-year-old women coming in and sort of slyly purchasing it. It's about women and sex and it's a stunning piece of really in depth report where she surveyed hundreds of women and then chose three and followed them for literally years and moved to their home towns and told the story of their sexual history. And when my son's girlfriend loaned it to me, she said, 'Don't read it on the Metro.' And it's very, very explicit. It's incredibly gripping. And the stories are all true and it's beautifully written. It's written like a thriller. She cuts between the three stories very cleverly. And I thought it was a remarkable piece of work, actually. So yeah, definitely recommend it. And a lot of food for thought in terms of sexuality.

KJ:                                        46:17                    How about you, Sarina?

Sarina:                                 46:18                    Well, I wanted to keep with the holiday theme and I am acquainted with this author named Jana Aston, who writes what is very much an of-the-moment romance in the contemporary space right now. She writes kind of like billionaires and young women and it's very snappy and also kind of romcom, but also probably quite dirty. She came out with three holiday novellas right now and they are brilliantly packaged. And I'm reading the first one right now. It's called The Boss Who Stole Christmas.

Betsy:                                  46:57                    And I bet they're racing up the Kindle charts.

Sarina:                                 47:00                    Yes. And I have to tell you the title of the second book because it makes my heart pitter-patter. It is so funny. It is called If You Give a Jerk a Gingerbread. Isn't that impressive? And so I'm having a great time reading book one and I can't wait to get to the jerk with the gingerbread.

KJ:                                        47:20                    Well, as I've said multiple times, did really enjoy Mutts and Mistletoe. Super fun. Although you need to look for the paperback, not necessarily the Kindle edition. They probably won't let me loan it to you. I also read Beside Herself by Elizabeth Labon. Elizabeth Labon is a Philly author who writes really, really place-centric commercial women's fiction. And I love the cover of this book. It's a coffee cup, like sort of spilling as it topples over. And it's the story of a woman whose husband has an affair and who still loves him but wants to get back at him. And it's a happy ending, romcom, very much fun read, especially if you're a Philly person. And yeah, I enjoyed it. I've enjoyed her previous books. So yeah, it was fun. I think it's a good time of year. You know, I have a stack right now that is a combination of sort of more serious stuff and really, really light stuff because this is just such a rich time of year for book shopping.

Betsy:                                  48:25                    Absolutely. And I think over the Christmas holidays, frankly, everybody wants the literary equivalent of a malteser way. I mean, you know, really, that feeds aside for all of us. And you know, there's room for all those books on our shelves.

KJ:                                        48:44                    Well, thank you so much for coming. This has been incredibly fun. We thought it would be fun when it was just going to be holiday, but when it turned into let's talk about owning a bookstore and writing multiple books in multiple genres. We got super excited, so thank you.

Betsy:                                  49:00                    Fantastic. Thank you so much for having me.

Sarina:                                 49:02                    And until next week, everyone, keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game.

Jess:                                     49:14                    This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Nov 22 2019

49mins

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Episode 185: #AudioExplosion

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Here’s one way to learn how to write books that work in audio: narrate over 700 of them, like our guest this week, Tanya Eby. If that sounds a little daunting, listen in instead for the condensed version.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, we sent out our first supporter-only #MiniSupporter episode this week: #Prewriting. Those will be short and sporadic bursts of advice and inspiration from one of us, and thanks to the magic of Substack, supporters of #AmWriting will see those drop into a special feed in their podcast apps whenever we’ve got one ready. We’d love to add you to that list if you’re not already on it. Support the podcast you love, get bonus #MiniSupporter episodes AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Jess: Olive Kitteredge, Elizabeth Strout

KJ: Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo

Sarina: Never Have I Ever, Joshilyn Jackson

Tanya: The Chestnut Man, Soren Sveistrup

#FaveIndieBookstore

Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Our guest for this episode is Tanya Eby, the Audie Award Winning narrator of over 700 audio books. Her production company, Blunder Woman Productions, is currently nominated for two Society Arts Awards. Find more about Tanya here.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                        00:01                    Hey writers, it's KJ and if you're listening in real time, there's a pretty good chance you might be in the middle of NaNoWriMo right now, or giving up on it, or flailing around and wishing you'd never started it. If your National Novel Writing Month isn't exactly passing by in a haze of inspired typing, it's well worth taking a break from churning outwards to make sure your book has a strong enough spine to support the story you want to tell. Our sponsor, Author Accelerator has a tool that might help - the Inside Outline. And I have a NaNoWriMo secret. It's not all about the word count. 30,000 words are better than 50,000 if you're going to have to throw half of those 50,000 words away. So, if you're feeling the least bit stuck, try applying the Inside Outline to what you've already written and to the scenes to come. It might be exactly what you need to get over the finish line. #AmWriting listeners have exclusive access to a free download that describes what the outline is, why it works, and how to do it free. You can find it at authoraccelerator.com/amwriting. Is it recording?

Jess:                                     01:12                    Now it's recording.

KJ:                                        01:14                    Yay.

Jess:                                     01:14                    Go ahead.

KJ:                                        01:15                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing.

Jess:                                     01:19                    Alright, let's start over.

KJ:                                        01:21                    Awkward pause, I'm going to rustle some papers.

Jess:                                     01:24                    Okay.

KJ:                                        01:24                    Now one, two, three.

KJ:                                        01:32                    Hey, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting, the weekly podcast about writing all the things - fiction, nonfiction, every genre, every possible permutation of writing that we can possibly come up with, (especially if it begins with a P, which seems to be where I'm going today) pitches, proposals. See I told you, and as you know, this is, above all else, the podcast about sitting down and getting your work done.

Jess:                                     02:03                    I'm Jess Lahey. I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and you can find my work at the New York Times and The Atlantic. And I just finished the first draft of my forthcoming book in 2021 The Addiction Inoculation about preventing substance abuse in kids.

Sarina:                                 02:17                    And this is Sarina Bowen. I'm the author of more than 30 romance novels, with a new one coming out in just a few days, called Man Cuffed, and more about that in a minute.

KJ:                                        02:29                    And I am KJ Dell'Antonia, author of How To Be a Happier Parent as well as a novel coming out next year, The Chicken Sisters, former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times, and feeling a bit like a slacker with this just same book, you know, coming out all the time. I'm working, I'm going to have another one soon, I hope.

Jess:                                     02:55                    Well, just wait. I mean, my book's not coming out until 2021 so just imagine how sick of it we're going to be by the time it finally comes out, it feels like it's forever away.

KJ:                                        03:03                    Yes, we have a guest today. Sarina, I'm going to tell you, 'Take it away.'

Sarina:                                 03:11                    We do have a guest today and it's a friend of mine. We're welcoming to the show, Tanya Eby, who is the Audie award-winning narrator of over 700 audio books. Wow. I mean, come on, 700. Her production company, which is adorably titled Blunder Woman Productions, is currently nominated for two society arts awards, as well. And Tanya is here today to talk mostly about the booming market for audio books. But I just have to slide in there and say that Tanya and I also have a USA today bestselling series of romance novels together. They are The Man Hands books. Which everything Tanya does is funny, so I'm going to tell you the titles are: Man Hands, Man Card, Boy Toy, and our new one, Man Cuffed. Welcome, Tanya.

Tanya:                                 04:06                    Hey, that was such a cool introduction. Thank you.

Sarina:                                 04:10                    You are welcome.

Jess:                                     04:12                    The series you two write together that Sarina was just talking about just makes me laugh out loud. I love that series. And it's also really fun to read Sarina with various authors. I love reading Sarina in all the different forms and I'm so excited to hear about audio books. Mainly because number one, I'm a huge, huge audio book fan since I had a head injury a couple of years ago. For me, I have limited on the page time, and so audio books are my preferred way to sort of get at the fun reading. But also, I was on one of my audio book apps, scrolling through trying to make sure I knew which books you've narrated that I've read, and it's like page one of 62 and I'm scrolling through. So I'm glad Sarina said how many because that was going to be a long morning for me scrolling through every single thing you've ever done.

Tanya:                                 05:08                    Yeah, I've been doing this for a while now.

Jess:                                     05:11                    Well I have a ton of questions, but I know that Sarina has some stuff that she wants to talk to you about first. So I'm going to defer to Sarina.

Sarina:                                 05:19                    I was pulling together my thoughts about this and I would like to say that Tanya has been basically a full-time audio book narrator and producer since before it was cool.

Jess:                                     05:33                    Which means officially it's cool now. It's very, very cool.

Sarina:                                 05:38                    Because some of these numbers I was just finding about the growth of the audio book industry are pretty crazy. So the industry has had, according to the Audio Publisher's Association, which I believe Tanya has just finished a stint on the board. They say they've had seven years of double digit growth. With the last date available 2018 of course, cause we're not quite done with this one. And that in 2018, according to the APA, it was almost a billion dollar industry, which of course means that it was over a billion dollar industry because professional associations that cover publishing can never actually capture all that revenue because there's too many independent publishers. And also because the only people who really know how many audio downloads there are, are Amazon and they're not saying.

Tanya:                                 06:36                    Right, but it's a lot.

Sarina:                                 06:37                    It's a lot. And 2018 revenue was up 24 and a half percent over 2017, which is a big fat growth number. And I'm, you know, a cynical economist so that when people tell me that something is growing really fast, I kind of sometimes discount that because if a thing is growing really fast, but it's a really tiny thing, then you know, that's interesting, but it's not life changing. And in publishing we love to grasp onto whatever is growing because, you know, it's a tricky industry and wild growth is not something people think about when they think about publishing. But now after seven years of double digit growth, I have to say that it really seems like they're not fooling around this time. And so, I'm a believer now. And just to prove it to myself, I looked up my own audio revenue on my early 2018 release because I thought that that was like the best one to look at to figure out what it was. And 12% of all the copies of my early 2018 release were sold in audio, which means that the revenue proportion is even greater than 12%, because I'm earning slightly more on every audio copy than other formats, including e-book and paperback. So, wow. I'm a believer.

Jess:                                     08:12                    I'm so jealous of you being able to look up that information. I mean, when it comes (as you mentioned before) Amazon's not telling and it's almost impossible for me to know. But what's really nice for me when I go to a book signing, go to a book event, more and more frequently people are asking me if the book's available on audio or I listened to you in my car. And I want to talk about that in a little bit - to the sort of the relationship that you build with the voice that you listen to in your car. But more and more people are saying to me, 'Oh, I listened to it on audio and I love that format.' And that wasn't something, even five years ago, that wasn't something I was hearing.

Tanya:                                 08:51                    Well, I think that the industry really changed and exploded when we had the technology to support it. So when I started, I was still on tape. This is how long ago I was recording and then it moved to mostly CDs, but then we've had this huge, you know explosion since smartphones and then Audible coming in and now people can access it everywhere, where you couldn't before. And people have discovered how much fun it is to listen. For me, it's like a movie in my mind and it's been constantly growing, which has been great.

Jess:                                     09:31                    From the teacher perspective, there have been a bunch of articles in the past couple of years on you know, is listening to audio books "reading", does it count, you know, that kind of thing. And there've been a couple of articles saying, 'Absolutely, yes, it does count.'

Speaker 4:                          09:48                    We do process the the words we read slightly differently, but I know from a teaching perspective, if I have to teach a text, especially a text that's really dense, I always listen and read because I get different things from a text when I listen than when I read, and it's a very important part of my preparation. So I think that's added to it.

Tanya:                                 10:07                    Yeah. It actually lights up the same parts of the brain as reading does, which is really cool. And I actually got started with audio books - my first experience - I was trying to understand Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and I was like 16 years old and I couldn't make sense of it. So I started to read it out loud and suddenly like the whole book just came to life for me. So, yeah I agree.

Jess:                                     10:33                    There's this really cool passage I used to teach in seventh grade, I would teach Great Expectations. There are a few passages that I had to read out loud because the way Dickens structured the sentences lent itself to the same - there's a scene where they're racing through the marshes and the sentence just bounds, and bounds, and bounds forward the same way that Joe is bounding, and bounding, and bounding through the marsh. And so it's a way of showing students that you can use language not only to appeal to the eye and to sort of sound good in your head, but to sound good from an oral perspective as well. So that's one of my favorite parts about reading out loud and who doesn't want to be read to?

Tanya:                                 11:15                    It's so nice, isn't it? It's really comforting, I love it.

Jess:                                     11:19                    So can we talk nuts and bolts?

Tanya:                                 11:21                    What do you want to know?

Jess:                                     11:23                    I want to know practical stuff. Like how do you get hired? And Sarina talks about this every once in a while, but how does an author (and often it has nothing to do with the author unless you're at Lucky like Sarina and you're so good at the self pub thing) but how do you get hired for a book in the first place?

Tanya:                                 11:40                    So I think the most important thing to realize about narrators is that we are all freelancers. So we may work through a publisher, but we don't work with just that publisher. And you can basically contact us and most of us can produce audio for you or we can work with whichever publishing house you want to work with. So how I get hired is publishing houses sometimes will cast and I've been in the business long enough that they know me and they simply send me an email and say, 'Are you interested?' Or I might audition or I have authors who contact me or I might audition for pieces that authors post online through ACX or find a way or some of those services. So there's multiple ways to reach a narrator.

Jess:                                     12:31                    You hear about like actors going after certain roles, have there been certain audio books that you've really gone after because you wanted to be a part of them?

Tanya:                                 12:38                    Yes. And it did not work. And I'm still intensely bitter. No, I'm not. But this was before I started my publishing company and I realized that I might've seemed a little creepy because I was just a narrator saying like, 'Hire me.' And that made people uncomfortable. But now that I have a production company, they take me a little more seriously and I have been able to get some really great roles that way.

Jess:                                     13:07                    Cool. So in terms of - and these are just the things that I tend to be fascinated by - so when I read my own audio book for my for my book for Harper Collins, I got a flat fee as the author. So they said, here's the amount of money you get. Go away, go read the book. But I also understand from Sarina that audio narrators can get paid in terms of a finished, by the minute....

Tanya:                                 13:35                    We are paid what's called per finished hour. So if your book is 10 hours long, we are paid 10 hours worth of work. We call it per finished hour because each hour to record takes about two hours or more for us to produce it. So doing it by the per finished hour simplifies things. And I think there are A list actors who their pay scale is much different, but for most of us it's a per finished hour.

Jess:                                     14:07                    There's so many things that go into why it takes so much longer in the finished product.

Tanya:                                 14:14                    And I think they don't realize that for every hour of audio book you listen to, it's taken about 10 hours to produce and there can be a team of like 20 people working on that audio book. So we've got directors, we have engineers, proofers, people who listen for mistakes or tummy grumbles or things like that, you have people doing research, you have the narrator who reads the book first and does a bunch of research and yeah, I mean it's huge what goes into it.

Jess:                                     14:46                    What's your favorite kind of book to narrate? Do you have a favorite kind?

Tanya:                                 14:51                    Well, I mean, I love stories. We all love stories that have great characters. I've been enjoying narrating nonfiction lately, but I like heartwarming stories. But then I also have this dark side where there are times where I love true crime and I love those gritty mysteries. So for me, one of the fun parts about being a narrator is I get to narrate across genres. So once I'd been doing romances for a while, I might get a nonfiction title thrown in and it keeps me really interested.

Jess:                                     15:24                    One of the things that I've sort of been really curious about (mainly because it's something that I don't know that I could do) is there are those times that I'm listening to a book and I realize that it is a woman reading the book to me. and yet I get lost in the male voice that that narrator is able to create for me. And I forget that I'm listening to just one narrator. And I'm sort of curious as to how you arrive on that and just sort of what the tricks are about doing that. Cause I don't really get it. It's almost like one of those TV or movie illusions that it's best not to think about. But I'm really curious about how you do that.

Tanya:                                 16:02                    Yeah, I mean that's the magic of audio books - that you can have one performer create all these characters. What helps is if we have good writing to start with. So that gives us some clues as to what the characters are. If you have like an evil character, is he gritty? Is he is he smarmy? Is he manipulative, cocky? Like those kinds of adjectives help us choose voices. And for me I've been listening to lots and lots of people talk and I kind of like quietly mimic them to capture voices. And what's interesting is that not all males have this deep masculine voice. Some of them have higher pitched voice and the same goes with women, we're not all Sopranos. So kind of making choices that suit the character, as if you were dressing the character, what would this character wear is kind of how I get into it.

Jess:                                     16:57                    That's so cool. One of the things Sarina and I were talking about recently is often Sarina's books, for example, Good Boy that you read along with (obviously you weren't in the same room together) but with Teddy Hamilton in the male character. The thing though in a lot of books is that even from the female perspective, you have to speak in the male voice. And so do you ever get to hear, for example, Teddy Hamilton's performance before you do yours or is it just sort of put together at the end?

Tanya:                                 17:27                    When you're doing a dual read like that (when you have two people narrating) with each one doing a point of view chapter. What I do is I'll talk to my co-narrator and we post files that we'll listen to (of each other) where we make character choices and so I can listen to it and kind of get the groove. Now Teddy, I know well enough and I've listened to him a lot and spent time with him, that it was easy to fall into that groove of how he narrates.

Jess:                                     18:03                    He's one of my favorites, he's one of my very favorite narrators.

Tanya:                                 18:07                    And he's an awesome person, too, which is always great.

Jess:                                     18:11                    That is so cool. Sarina, did you want to jump in? I feel like taking over this interview.

Sarina:                                 18:18                    Oh no, it's all good. I thought it would be fun to ask Tanya though - Like, which words in a manuscript do you not like?

Tanya:                                 18:27                    So...clasping - like, she clasped her breasts or something - is really hard. Sexting, texting - those words destroy me.

Jess:                                     18:41                    I told Sarina at one point I had them, I used to work as a political speech writer and I wrote an inaugural speech for someone. And at a certain point we just had to ditch an entire sentence no matter, he loved the sentence, I love the sentence, but it was not coming out of his mouth the right way. It was not going to happen.

Tanya:                                 19:03                    Yeah. Sometimes it doesn't. Or you get a character. The famous one is Jack, we love that name. But whenever you have a character, Jack asked, you have to be careful. And fantasy books, character names are difficult because they'll create languages and people think they know how it's pronounced. And then a narrator will make a choice and they make the wrong choice, it's tricky.

Sarina:                                 19:29                    So what happens - what happens if you're reading a fantasy novel and they gave you the pronunciation for like everything except this one word and you read that one word. What happens?

Tanya:                                 19:38                    So two things. Either they like it so much, they're okay with it. Or you have to record 156 fixes of every time you said that name. I've had it go both ways. And I had one where I said Viola and it was Viola. Because I guess Viola is more popular in the South.

Jess:                                     20:02                    And there's nothing that pulls me out of a book faster. I was listening to an audio book a while ago and they mispronounced a really well-known street name in Los Angeles and that was it. Like it was over for me.

Tanya:                                 20:17                    Proofers should catch that, but they don't. You know, it's a team and we don't always. But something for writers to know - if one of your pieces are being produced, you can supply some of those pronunciations to your audio book team and they will love you for it.

Jess:                                     20:36                    Oh, that's a great tip.

Tanya:                                 20:38                    Yeah. Just knowing like if you have some names that are super important, let your narrator know.

Jess:                                     20:43                    That's especially important, I guess for us nonfiction writers that were there tend to be researchers' names Dr. So and so in there. That would be really helpful. That never (well I guess because I read my own book) but that never would've occurred to me. And you're right, that would be really, really helpful. It's a great tip.

Sarina:                                 20:59                    Can I just say that I have not always been good at this? At giving people the information they need. Except when we were going to record Him, which is I believe my bestselling audio book ever, I did manage to tell the narrating team that Jamie was from San Rafael, California. And I said, 'You don't say Rafael, even though it's spelled that way.' People from Northern California say San Rafael. And I got notes from grateful listeners like 'Thank you for saying San Rafael.' And I'm like, 'Okay. I guess that one thing that I thought to do.' So, the other thing that we should mention, so some of our listeners are authors with published books who may not have an audio edition. So you know, there must be some people listening to think how do I get one?

Tanya:                                 22:02                    Well the first thing they need to know is to look at their contract (if they have one) and see if they own the audio rights. Or if they're self-published, they do own the audio rights. And that can make you go into two different paths. So there's lots of paths to get your book into audio. You can request that your publisher consider publishing in audio and if they don't, if you can have the rights back and you can do it yourself. If you own the rights, you can do it yourself or you can hire a company like my production company, Blunder Woman Productions, and we can produce it for you. So there are lots of different avenues, but the most important question is do you have the rights?

Sarina:                                 22:45                    Right. And I actually I had a contract with a publisher that I no longer have a contract with, let's say in 2014. And one of the things that my agent did with that contract is that this particular publisher keeps rights like that. They keep audio and they were keeping translation as well, and she couldn't talk them out of keeping those things. But she did put in that if they hadn't exercised the audio rights by a certain date that we got it back.

Tanya:                                 23:22                    Right. And that's so great, especially because as audio books have become more popular, more and more publishers are holding onto those rights. So having that clause is extremely helpful. You can also put in a clause that you have some input with the narrator. Sometimes publishers will cast it for you. But if you have that information in there, they can give you choices to choose from. And that's really helpful sometimes for writers.

Sarina:                                 23:49                    Yeah. In fact, I have a different contract with Penguin (who always keeps their audio rights), but in this case I was perfectly happy about it because they publish those audio books immediately with the publication of the other books. So here's where it also gets weird if you're an author and you can't quite figure out what's happening. So let's just say you have books with Penguin or Harper or Simon and Schuster. Sometimes your publisher will make them themselves. Like, you know, the book will be from Harper Audio, but sometimes your publisher will sell off those rights to an audio book publisher, such as Blackstone, Tenter, Brilliance. You know, there's a bunch like this. And then those people will make the book. And in this case, I had no rights at all (except of course to earn money when someone else did this work for me) but I was still asked by Blackstone, my opinion about who I wanted to narrate and they sent me audition tapes and it was just terrific.

Tanya:                                 25:01                    So nice. So sometimes they will sell those rights to other companies. Sometimes those other companies will just produce it for them. Because not every publishing house can produce as many books as they want to.

Jess:                                     25:16                    What's also been cool is to see some of the audio books from before audio really became as popular as it is now and the quality has changed, that a lot of a lot of stuff is being reproduced. And it's really, really nice because it can be updated and you can stay on top of it and they can look uniform. And Stephen King's work comes to mind. They've reengineered a whole bunch of his books and it's been great.

Tanya:                                 25:44                    Well, and it's also interesting because in the last 10 years there's been a shift. Audio book started as reading for the blind. And narrators were instructed just to read the words with no emotion, no characterization, but there's been a real shift now, where those books are being performed. So like you had mentioned earlier with vocal characterization, we do accents, so we really act it out now. So that can also be a huge difference from a book that was released 10 years ago.

Sarina:                                 26:11                    I'll bet. And another new thing is the popularity of certain narrators. And this is another technology thing. So now that we all carry our audio books around in our pockets and we buy them or rent them from various audio book platforms, you can often search by narrator. So if you have a favorite and you click on their name all of their stuff comes up, which makes the whole recommending machine hum in a different direction than I'm sure it used to in the olden days.

Tanya:                                 26:51                    Right. If you're casting your own audio book, it's a good way to find narrators by listening to those little clips and seeing who do you click with? Because I also want to mention something really important for writers - that the audio book is never going to sound the way that it sounds in your head. So it's an interpretation by an actor and that's really important to remember that, that there's many ways to perform a piece and sometimes you gotta let go a little bit.

Sarina:                                 27:18                    Yeah. My way of doing this is, I have to say, I never listen to my own books in audio and people will say, 'Oh, this one is so wonderful.' And I'm like, 'That's amazing. I'm glad. I'm so happy to hear it.' But I will never have actually heard it. I've only listened to a couple. The fact that the cadence isn't the same in my head as I heard it is just, I can't deal.

Jess:                                     27:44                    You guys want to hear something horrifying. I was at a talk recently and someone came to the book signing and said, 'Oh, I was in a real hurry to get this listened to before, I wanted to get it all done before you came. So I listened to you. I started at 1.5 times, then I went up to 1.7, and then I listened to the very end at 2.0 and I tried it just to sort of see what that was like. I don't know how people do that, it scrambles my brain. It's the worst, but some people swear by it. They're like, 'That's how I get through books quickly is to go at one and a half speed.'

Tanya:                                 28:18                    When narrators hear that, it's like we've been drained by a vampire, like all the blood leaves our face. And we're like, 'That's great.'

Jess:                                     28:30                    There is something really (and I said this at the beginning that I wanted to come back to it) There's something really magical about having spent so much time in someone else's existence. You know, like I've been in someone's car, or they'd be listening to me on the way to work, and they're like, 'I feel like I know you.' And that is the same way I feel about the audio narrators that I listen to. Like Davina Porter, you know, I've listened to her voice so much that she's familiar to me and soothing and it's a reason that I relisten to those books when I'm feeling anxious because I have a relationship with that voice and I feel really privileged to be in that place.

Tanya:                                 29:14                    What's interesting about that, to hear you say that is that many of us when we sit down in the booth, like right now I'm in my basement in my booth, it's dark and I have to sit down and remember that I'm going to tell you a story and I want to pull you in and I want to have a conversation with you. So it's like, it's really intimate. And that's good to hear that that works for you.

Jess:                                     29:36                    Yeah, my producer at Vermont Public Radio taught me the coolest trick, and this of course doesn't work when you're totally by yourself, I suppose. But one of the things that she taught me to do is to catch her eye at moments where I felt it was really, really important to connect. And there's something about just looking at another human being when I'm in the booth that really does something to your voice. And especially right at the end of something and that's when I always try to catch her eye and sort of emote in a particular way. That was a really helpful trick she gave me and it helps me connect with whoever out there is listening. It's really a fun, amazing thing to get to do is to be in someone else's head, to be in someone else's ears, I think. So, speaking of reading audio books, listening to audio books, and reading, can we talk a little bit about what we've been listening to and reading? And for me it has been listening to, but I would love to hear what you guys have been reading this week.

KJ:                                        30:33                    I have a really good one. I think Sarina mentioned this one on the podcast before, but I just want to shout out to Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House, which was a really, really fun fantasy read, which I personally finished over Halloween, but it's perfect for any dark and dreary fall season, or heck a beach read. Really, anything you could possibly come up with. Fun, paranormal, lots of suspense, great characters, a real page turner for me. I had a great time with it.

Sarina:                                 31:06                    I'm so happy you liked it.

Jess:                                     31:08                    Yeah. You two have been talking about that one for a long time. I got to catch up and read that one, too.

Sarina:                                 31:12                    Do it.

Jess:                                     31:12                    Sarina, what do you have?

Sarina:                                 31:14                    Yesterday I read Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson, which you guys had an episode about, actually. And her writing is so beautiful and it sent me into a little spiral of trying to define what it means to have an unreliable narrator. And after I figure that out I'll get back to you.

Jess:                                     31:35                    And reliable narrator meaning we just can't trust everything they're telling us, which I would think would put the author in a very tricky place. So I'm excited to hear more about that. I decided to re download and listen to Olive Kitteredge again because I'm going to listen to the new book Olive, again, I think is what it's called by Elizabeth Strout. And I have to say all Olive Kitteredge is even better than I remembered. It's just a beautiful, beautiful book. And the audio version of it is fantastic. It's a great book. Plus it puts me in Maine and I get in that Maine headspace and that's always good, too.

Tanya:                                 32:12                    Well, I have something I'm reading. Because I narrate a lot of romance I like to read dark things for pleasure. So this is called The Chestnut Man and it's by Soren Sveistrup. It's about a serial killer, so it's pretty dark, but I'm really enjoying it.

Jess:                                     32:30                    I'm totally into those books and I've got a lot of travel coming up so will be downloading that one, too. And Tanya, do you have a bookstore for us to talk about this week?

Tanya:                                 32:40                    Sure. I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan and there's a great bookstore called Schuler Books. They have two locations and it's cozy and they have coffee and they also highlight a lot of local writers, which is always great to see.

Jess:                                     32:57                    I'm sort of excited. I get to go to Nashville next week or later this week, which means I get to visit Parnassus. I'm so excited, it's going to be so much fun. Alright, I think that's it for today. And Sarina, would you like to take us out today?

Sarina:                                 33:11                    Okay, everybody. Then, until next week, keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game.

Jess:                                     33:29                    This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Nov 15 2019

34mins

Play

Episode 184 #BeforeYouStartthatNonFictionProject

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Every nonfiction book starts out as a glimmer of an idea. A topic. An area of interest or expertise. But you can’t just pitch a book about beekeeping, kids. You need to know a whole lot more. Is it a beekeeping memoir? A beekeeping how-to? A meditation about the relationship between bees and humanity?

In this episode, we dish about how to answer those questions, because—spoiler—that’s exactly how Jess, who just finished the draft of her second nonfiction book, has been spending her time. Well, not thinking about beekeeping, or at least, I don’t think so. She’s pretty cagey about what, exactly, she’s researching—but that’s a good thing, because this episode is about the first steps that lead to an eventual proposal and, ultimately a book, no matter what the topic.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, a preview of the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, November 11, 2019: Top 5 Steps to Setting Up Your Author Presence on Amazon (Plus a Couple More for Extra Credit). Not joined that club yet? You’ll want to get on that. Support the podcast you love AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

To support the podcast and help it stay free, subscribe to our weekly #WritersTopFive email.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

The Art of the Book Proposal: From Focused Idea to Finished Product, Eric Maisel

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, Betsy Lerner

Modern Love Series on Amazon

Modern Love Column, New York Times

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Jess: Jess has been all in this week! Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire, How to Walk Away and the bridge story between those two novels, The Girl in the Plane, plus Happiness for Beginners, The Lost Husband, and Get Lucky.

Also, Ali Wong’s Dear Girls, Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill, and Sarina Bowen’s Moonlighter!

Sarina: The Virgin Gift, Lauren Blakely

#FaveIndieBookstore

Octavia Books, New Orleans.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. AND—they’ve got a new program for new nonfiction projects! Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

The image in our podcast illustration is by William Iven on Unsplash.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

Hello listeners! If you’re in with us every week, you’re what I like to call “people of the book.’ And some of us book people discover somewhere along the way that not only we writers, we’re people with a gift for encouraging other writers. For some of us, that comes out in small ways, but for others it’s a calling and an opportunity to build a career doing work you love. Our sponsor, Author Accelerator, provides book coaching to authors (like me) but also needs and trains book coaches. If that’s got your ears perked up, head to https://www.authoraccelerator.com and click on “become a book coach.” Is it recording?

Jess

00:01

Now it's recording. Go ahead.

KJ

00:45

This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing.

Jess

00:49

All right, let's start over.

KJ

00:51

Awkward pause. I'm going to rustle some papers.

Jess

00:54

Okay.

KJ

00:54

Now one, two, three. Hey, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting the podcast about all things writing - nonfiction, fiction, proposals, essays, pitches, and as we say each and every week. This is the podcast about sitting down and getting your work done.

Jess

01:22

I'm Jess Lahey. I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a completed manuscript for book two, The Addiction Innoculation. And you can find my stuff in the New York Times and the Atlantic and various other places.

KJ

01:35

Carry on, Sarina.

Sarina

01:40

Hi, I'm Sarina Bowen. I'm the author of 30 plus romance novels and my last one was called Moonlighter and it just hit the USA Today.Best Sellers List.

KJ

01:51

I am KJ Dell'Antonia, the author of How To Be a Happier Parent, the former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times and the author of a forthcoming novel that you'll hear all about as it comes out next summer. And yeah, wows all around. It's been it's been a good week. I think things are going pretty well for all of us.

Jess

02:18

All of us. I think so, too. I'm finally recovered from getting the last book done and it's amazing how much stuff a person can push off until after. And like after meant after November 1st and so now my inbox is full of things with like all different color flags stuck in it, like deal with this after November 1st, deal with this after November 1st. And it's amazing how much stuff I actually piled on to deal with after November 1st and it's November 1st and I'm dealing with it. Welcome to after, I'm in the after mode now. And it's crazy. It's really good though. It was really freeing to be able to say, 'Just later', but later is now here. So anyway, but Sarina the thing that I wanted to mention is a huge congratulations because this is a new book in a new series for you, right?

Sarina

03:13

Yeah. It's a spinoff because that's how I like to start series by spinning them off from existing characters. But it's definitely something new. I hadn't written a suspense plot really before. And yeah, it was hard and I really enjoyed it and I thought readers would follow me there, but of course I really wasn't sure.

KJ

03:35

And they did.

Jess

03:35

You can never be sure, but readers are fickles and they did. And it's really, really good. I was actually on my list of books I read, even though KJ pointed out that no one's going to trust me when I say anything about either The Chicken Sisters or any of your books. But I did love it and I love the fact that you're willing to push yourself to try lots of different things. And I think I even texted you earlier about a couple of the things that you've done that have made you nervous. When you first think, 'Should I write this?' And then you write it. And I'm always amazed how a) brave you are to write about stuff like a pregnant protagonist, which sounds crazy in romance. I mean, you would think that would never work, and it does, and it's fantastic. And I just, I love the fact that you're willing to push yourself because it would be so easy to say, 'I'm just going to write about single, heterosexual, white people because that's sort of the comfort zone. And yet you don't, you write about all kinds of things and I think that's really cool.

Sarina

04:36

Well, thank you. The truth is though if I only wrote about people like me, we'd have a lot of books about people who don't leave home very much.

Jess

05:03

My suspense for today is if the leftover Halloween candy is still gonna be here when everybody gets home later on today. Yeah. Can we point out today is (the day we're recording) November 1st since I already blew it and mentioned that. So that means it's the first day of NaNoWriMo. Are we gonna talk at all about that reality?

KJ

05:32

Sure, I will. But before we do, we do have a topic for today. We have a plan - today we're going to be talking - Jess, name it.

Jess

05:43

We are going to be talking about new projects. Because during my recovery from finishing the last book, I had no intention to have a new idea, but I did. So we'll talk about that in just a minute.

KJ

05:58

This is going to be like the how to start, what to do before you start, that kind of thing. But meanwhile, since some of us are starting...

Jess

06:04

Specifically non nonfiction. So my thing today is going to be about what you do when suddenly you have an idea for a new nonfiction, which requires a lot of organization from day one, so that you don't get yourself in the weeds and off on the wrong foot. But let's talk about November 1st - NaNo. What's happening people?

KJ

06:25

The timing actually turned out to be really good for me. So everybody knows I've been working on what we'll just call novel two for the sake of ignoring the one in the drawer. Oh my gosh, my mother. Apparently I gave her my first novel, which I wrote 15 years ago and I got a text from her recently, 'Do you remember Mud Season? I was just reading.' I was like, 'No, don't read that.' I was listening to a podcast with Grant Faulkner, who is the person who heads up NaNoWriMo right now, although he is not the founder. And he specifically and sort of narrowly described the goal, which I had forgotten, which is to write 50,000 words of a novel. And I thought, 'Oh, well, okay.' So I pulled out the words that I have already written of what we're calling book two. I tossed aside all the words that I wrote around various other outlines and concepts that sort of need massive reworking. This is just the chunk that I really have and it's 30,000 words. So you know what I need to have a book? 50,000 words. So, I started today, I'm shooting to write 50,000 words of my novel in November. It is not a cold draft, but I think we all make our own NaNo rules, but I'm sort of enjoying the fact that I'm really kind of hewing a little more closely to the NaNoWriMo rhythm than I thought I was going to be.

Jess

08:06

I'm sure there are NaNo purists who are saying, 'Oh no, you must start something new on day one.' But we don't roll that way.

Sarina

08:14

That was never the rules, sorry.

Jess

08:22

I think NaNo is a great time to (as we said last time around) just to take a hold of the productivity that's in the air, the sort of writing Juju that's floating around in November and do with it what you will.

KJ

08:34

So I already nailed my 1600, I believe I wrote 1618 today. I'm feeling good.

Jess

08:55

So in November are your stickers the value for the words that you like? How are you stickering? For those of you who are new to the podcast, we have this thing we do call stickering. Sarina and KJ and I text each other the word sticker when we get our sticker for the day. And it is literally a sticker that goes into our calendar. In fact, Sarina gave me some llamas for this month, which was great timing because I didn't have any stickers for this month. And it is literally a sticker that is of your own definition. Right now (as we're gonna get into in a minute) mine are research stickers this month. But it can be anything you want. And it means, 'Yay me. I did it.'

KJ

09:36

Yes, my stickers this month (which are coffee pot or coffee cups. Super cute little pile of stickers.) will be for 1612 words. Or, like if I decide, I may end up having to decide not to write on Thanksgiving cause we're having a family dinner somewhere that involves traveling. So I may up some word counts in order to allow for some days off. I think the thing that's going to be different for me - sometimes I just want to just want to get to my words. And so when I write things that I delete sometimes I just leave the words in the word count until I'm done writing. Not this time, because the goal is to actually finish this draft. The words have to be words. That kind of varies. Sometimes they can be outlining words or they can be pre-writing words or they can be other kinds of words. But this month, hear me now, they have to be actual words

Jess

10:44

And Sarina, what's happening with you?

Sarina

10:46

Well, I have a book that needs 25,000 words, but they have to be perfect by the end of the month so I can't do NaNo. I have to finish this project, and then make it beautiful, and that's just how it is.

KJ

11:01

Well, I'll be representing you.

Jess

11:04

You still use stickers during that process though, right?

Sarina

11:07

Yup, absolutely.

Jess

11:09

And during that process, are your stickers for editing, for writing, do you change it up day to day, whatever your goals are?

Sarina

11:16

Well, they'll be writing for 1200 words. And then if I run out of book, then I'll revisit.

Jess

11:24

Okay, sounds good. So I guess this leads us into the announcement that I have to make, which is, I already said on the podcast that I was going to be working on that novel, which sounded great when we were talking about it. It really, really did. And then I spent a lot of time rereading what I had. And thinking about what I really wanted to do and thinking about what KJ had said about what do you write in your head? And I just don't love writing fiction. I just don't, it's not what gets me excited to sit down. And you know, when in On Writing, when Stephen King talks about the fact that he threw away the opening chapters of Carrie because it was really hard, that's not what this is. I really don't think I'm just saying I don't want to do it cause it's hard. It just doesn't feed me. It just doesn't get me excited and make me want to go to work every day. And frankly, what happened was, and I have to be super, super cagey about this because I haven't even talked with my agent about it, but I had an idea for the next book after the addiction book. And I am so excited, at least right now for this crazy, in-depth research phase. I've said this before, what Mary Roach, author of Guts and a bunch of other cool books, calls her three month research flail. Where she jumps into the research and figures out what her book is. And so that's what I'm doing. I'm starting a new proposal for a new nonfiction book and that's what our topic is going to be about today. So, sorry to pull the rug out from under my NaNo plans, but they changed.

KJ

13:05

I think that's really cool. And I don't know about Sarina, but I personally had no plans to actually require you to write fiction. You're okay. You be you.

Jess

13:18

And that book is just still sitting there. I still have an internal relationship with those characters and I don't know if it'll ever get written. But Jenny Nash, if you're listening, that's not what I'm working on this month. But frankly, whenever I get this excited about something new, I'm all over it. Our official topic for today is what to do when you have an idea for a nonfiction book and you're starting to wrap your brain around a topic and think about a proposal. So, the very first thing I did was I took the book proposal for the addiction book, which is the long form. I think we talked at one point about the fact that if you are going to go back to your same editor that you've had at a publisher with a new book idea, you may not necessarily have to write the mammoth (in my case, I think it was 70 or 80 page book proposal that includes everything from the marketing stuff, and comparable titles that are out there, and who you are) that's for a publisher that doesn't know anything about you necessarily. But with the addiction book (simply because it's a difficult topic and we weren't 100% sure that my editor was going to be fully on board) my agent and I went out with a full, finished book proposal to my editor so that if she didn't want it, we could go out to everybody, right away. It would be done, locked down, in perfect shape. We didn't have to do that, my editor wanted it. But I also found that while it's a ton of work, it is such a great process to have to go through with a book. And, KJ, as you know from working on the stuff with Jenny for The Chicken Sisters, you have to be able to tell people really quickly what your book is about. You have to hone your ideas about what the chapters are going to be about. And that whole process for me is really, really helpful. So, while it's maybe, possibly more than I need to do right now, it's really good for my thinking. I don't know how you feel about that in terms of when you do nonfiction book proposals or your outlines, I guess.

Sarina

15:35

Yeah. Well, the thing is, if I were proposing even like a series of novels to an editor that I already knew, I don't think I'd even want to start the project if I hadn't done that. Like I can't imagine committing to something without that level of ... cause it's just so much work, it's like more than a year of your life. And I think I would want to do all of that. And in the end it would not be wasted.

KJ

16:04

Well, we've talked about the risks of promising to write a book that isn't what you want to write. This prevents that.

Jess

16:12

It also helps me gauge the competition on the market. You know, I have to go out there. I've already started buying books and trips to bookstores. In fact, I was just in Sacramento and I came across a bookstore there called Beers Books. And it is a combination new and used bookstore. And I went bonkers. My suitcase was full of books coming back from Sacramento. It was great. And so buying books is sort of the first part of that process for me, figuring out what's out there in the market. And so I might as well gather that information since that's a piece of the book proposal I'm going to have to put together anyway and realizing what's already out there. Am I competing with something else that's better? Or am I the best person? Why am I the right person to work on this thing? And the answer may come back that I'm not. And that's all valuable information. So yeah, I don't have any problem working on the book proposal in-depth before anyone sees it.

KJ

17:15

So, step one...

Jess

17:16

Step one for me. So I went back to that old book proposal that's in good shape and essentially renamed it, did a save as, went through, left the headers in, took out the text for the old book. And I don't even know what the title for this new book is, but I have a placeholder and now I've sort of focused my thinking by looking at the book proposal to know what do I need to think about? Okay, well I'm going to have to think about what the chapters might be. I'm going to have to think about the competing title stuff. So the book proposal itself gives me a really good way to do that. If you don't already have a book proposal for a previous book we have some suggestions that we'll put in the show notes and I can't come up with them right off the top of my head. But KJ, I know you have one of the books that we happen to love for nonfiction book proposals.

KJ

18:07

I believe it's the Art of the Book Proposal. Yes, that'll be in the show notes. Incidentally, just to toss it out there, head over to amwritingpodcast.com and sign up and you'll get the show notes in your inbox every time. So anytime we say this you can just be like, 'Oh sure, those are in my inbox.' And you can pop in there and look and that would be very handy.

Jess

18:33

That book is really helpful, too. As is Betsy Lerner's book, The Forest for the Trees, gives you sort of good ways to think about the hard questions. Am I the right person to write this? Is this something I want to spend the next couple of years of my life on? You know, that kind of stuff. So number one, start thinking in terms of an outline for the skeleton of the book proposal.

KJ

18:57

Wait, just to go back, one of the fun things in The Art of the Book Proposal that I think we almost do without realizing it is sort of thinking about all the different possible approaches to a topic. And I wondered, are you doing that? So you know, there's this sort of, 'I could write a how to about this. I could write a memoir about this. I could write a big picture research book about this.' Is that part of it or was it super clear that if I'm going to tackle this topic it's going to be like this.

Jess

19:27

It has not been super clear for a couple of reasons that I'll talk about later on. But the idea of, is this a Gift of Failure type book? And I also had a really narrow focus at first, but lots of conversations with my husband (who's my best sounding board for this kind of stuff) has broadened the focus a little bit. So trying to get at what this thing is...yeah, that book does a really good job of breaking that down and helping you look at all of the different possibilities that you may not have thought of yet. And the nice thing about also getting your hands on a lot of other books that might be in your comparable title section is that they probably do it lots of different ways, too, and makes you sort of say, 'Oh, look at how that person did it, that's really interesting, maybe I can borrow from that. Or I think I might avoid this way because I don't think it works as well.' So yeah, that's also part of the honing process for me. What is it going to look like? And that's been an ongoing process. So number one, look at the book proposal, come up with your ideas of approach, come up with your ideas of how you're going to have to think about it when you read the research. Number two, get the books that are the research. You know, if you can't afford to buy the books, go to the library. Interlibrary loan can be invaluable if you're near a university. That's been invaluable for me because a bigger library is always better. Simply because there could even be things that are out of print that are really helpful. And in my case there were two books that are out of print that have been really, really helpful in helping me shape my thinking on this. Number three sounds really simple. But for me this is always really, really a big deal. I made a new email folder in at my email app on my computer. (I use the mail app that's on my Apple computer.) And having a folder that has the subject of the book is really great because I bounce a lot of ideas off of my husband. I bounced a couple of ideas off of some people I know in this field. All of those emails go into that email folder so that if I'm ever looking for the emails having to do with this topic, they're all there. And in fact that's what I'm doing right now, with the addiction book, I'm going back through that folder and I am figuring out what I might have forgotten, I might have left out. So once you have your email folder, once you've got all your books, once you're working on the proposal stuff, I also create a new Scrivener doc. A new Scrivener doc for me just gets my brain in the right place, especially since with Scrivener you can create a new folder for each chapter. You can move them around. So Scrivener really helps me shape my thinking, it's been invaluable for me as a tool. And then honestly, I just start trying to think like an emerging expert in the topic. I start following people on Twitter that might be a part of this topic. I start looking for the big people in the field and wondering, 'Are these people who might someday want to blurb this book?' Just little things - we're talking about a book that if it even gets written isn't going to be out there for like three or four years, but you have to start (at least I do) putting myself in the headspace of someone who's trying to become an expert in this topic. And as you well know, Sarina, this means that I am going to over-research everything. I am going to do a deep dive into the history of the topic, but that for me is what gets me out of bed in the morning. And it's what changed my mind about what I'm working on this month. And it's just fun. It's so much fun. I think it's the reason I love journalism so much - is the idea that it's my job to suddenly become an expert in a topic, and then write about it, and translate it for someone who doesn't necessarily want to go and do all the research that I love doing. And that's just really fun for me.

Sarina

23:37

Well, I'm intimidated on your behalf.

Jess

23:41

It's so much fun. We should clarify for the listeners that we are without KJ. She lost power at her house, which is something that we actually battle with. Sarina and KJ both lost power this morning due to a windstorm. I'm still good at the moment, although it's very windy here. It sounds like trucks are roaring by my house, but we're just going to carry on without KJ. I think that's really about it for me. Right now it's all about headspace. It's all about immersing myself in the topic and being excited. And my poor husband is going to be hearing a lot about this topic. And that's fine cause it's actually a topic he's really interested in, too. So for us, that's fun. That's life in the geeky, Lahey household. And actually, believe it or not, my younger son (who is still at home with us) is interested in the topic, too. So it's led to some really interesting conversations and it's also been fun to watch him get excited about a book that he probably will not have any part in. In terms of showing up in the book, because he's definitely in Gift of Failure, and he's definitely in the addiction book. And I think he's just about done being a part of my work. And of course he's been in lots of New York Times articles. There are pictures of him in the New York Times, which he's cool with and he's fine with all that, but I think he's excited that I'm working on something that may not include him as a potential topic. So there we are. One thing that was also really fun and this sounds like a really nothing sort of to-do list task. But I cleaned my office. And for me I used to do that as part of the process, at the end of every single chapter I finished in the addiction book, I would clean up because things would just get disastrous in here. There'd be piles of books and piles of research. And it was a really cleansing experience to put the research away from let's say the chapter on peers and peer influence and move on to the chapter on education on prevention programs in schools. Because I would then put away all those books, put away all those articles, and take out a whole new stack of stuff. And it was sort of a mind cleansing thing. And so the same thing has happened. I still have all my research out for the addiction book because I'm deep into edits now. And actually speaking of which, I'm working on edits right now because I'm going to have a meeting with my editor on the 20th of November, in which I have to have my arms around all the edits. So all those papers and articles and everything are still all around me. It's just that I'm making space for the new books on the new topic. It has its own bookshelf, I have a bookshelf dedicated to this topic. It's still only fills one shelf, but I'm sure that will change with time. But, it's really fun. It's a mental shift and that mental shift is really fun and exciting. And yeah, I'm back to being excited to go to work every morning and having a vacation between the two was really good.

Sarina

26:49

That's terrific. You just reminded me of that internet meme of the guy and the girl walking down the street holding hands and he's looking over his shoulder at the other hot girl. Cause that's how it feels when you have to finish up the last bits of one project, but your head is already looking at another one.

Jess

27:11

This was a first for me, actually. But you do this all the time, where you're writing one book and editing the last. This is new for me, but I hadn't really even thought about that as that's something that you have to do all the time.

Sarina

27:25

Yeah, I do. If you spread it out a little bit, it's actually kind of nice. Because then you can be super picky on one topic and sort of expansive on the other one.

Jess

27:35

Oh, that's a really good way of thinking about it. Speaking of which (that meme about the guy looking back) I watched the new series Modern Love on Amazon. You know, adapted from the Modern Love columns from the New York Times and there is a shot that is a direct call out to that meme in one of the episodes. And by the way, the Modern Love adaptation for Amazon is fantastic, way better than I ever thought it would be. But it was so funny to see the shot and say, 'Wait a second, that's that meme right there. I can see it.'.

Sarina

28:08

So I heard that you had a new bookstore for us.

Jess

28:13

I do. Tt's a bookstore I had visited once in New Orleans and I saw Anya Kamenetz from NPR, the education editor at NPR, she had a book event there for her book that was coming out (this was years ago). And it's Octavia Books in New Orleans and they sold books for my recent event down in New Orleans. But it's a tremendous bookstore. Curation is fantastic, people are so nice. And it's a quaint bookstore in the middle of a lovely little neighborhood in New Orleans. So another one of those bookstores where you walk in and you just sort of feel at home. So can't recommend that one more heartily. But speaking of bookstores, have you been reading anything interesting?

Sarina

28:58

I just read a really sexy novella that my friend Lauren Blakely finished.

Jess

29:09

You don't see a lot of novellas these days.

Sarina

29:12

Oh, because of the holidays?

Jess

29:14

No, these days in general. Novellas are tricky. As you well know, you wrote one.

Sarina

29:18

Yeah, novellas are not my chosen length. But this book, it's going to do amazing. She did an amazing job on it and it's called The Virgin Gift. And it isn't out yet, but this was one fun moment where I helped somebody with something when I wasn't expecting to. Lauren Blakely writes so many wonderful books all the time, without any difficulty. But she happened to ask me a question about plot, just that came up in conversation, and it was one of those moments when solving someone else's problem is just so much easier than solving your own. And I was so happy to come up with this tiny little idea that helped her finish her book because it's so satisfying to solve that kind of problem. And then you know, your own plot problem will just grate on you for days, and days, and days and then once in awhile you can mention it to another person and get the idea you need just just by accident. So that was super fun. And then this week I got to read it and see how it all turned out.

Sarina

30:31

That's really cool. Being a part of someone's book from the beginning is always so exciting. It's like when I get to read your books and I realize, 'Oh wait, I remember hearing about that six months ago.' I love that.

Jess

30:42

I have read so many books, mainly because I was on vacation after having finished my book and I've been flying a lot, which means audio books. So you people had been recommending Katherine Center's books. Specifically Things You Save In a Fire. And so I I downloaded Things You Save In a Fire and loved it. And then I very quickly downloaded How To Walk Away, Happiness for Beginners, and The Lost Husband. And I have gone through all of them and it's always interesting to read an author's work out of order because she's evolved as a writer, as we all do. Her Things You Save In a Fire is her newest, and Lost Husband is years ago, and I'm now listening to a book of hers called Get Lucky. And it's interesting to read her evolution as a writer and she's delightful. She's just delightful. She's good, the humor is fantastic, the romance is fantastic, the suspense is fantastic, the secrets, there's lots of secrets. It's just delightful stuff.

Sarina

31:56

I can't believe that you're two books ahead of me now. I've only read two of those four and I'm going to do a little video about Things You Save In a Fire because I love it so much.

Jess

32:05

Oh, good. So, Get this. I also listened to Ali Wong's book, Dear Girls, which is so raunchy and so funny. It's letters to her daughter about her life. And if you've ever watched Ali Wong's comedy, either Baby Cobra or the other one that I can't remember at the moment. You know, she's raunchy, she's dirty, she's hysterical. And Dear Girls does not disappoint. It's really, really funny. Although, how you write a book to your daughters that they can't possibly listen to until they're in their twenties, I just don't even know. And listening to still more Harlan Coben. But then I also listened to Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill. Which was fascinating, really fascinating. And it was more than I thought it was going to be in terms of content. So anyway, it's been amazing reading. But thank you so much for the Katherine Center recommendation. Because she's not my normal turf reading wise and I have been sad every time I finished her books. And do we have time to really, really quickly mention the bridge thing? So on her website, you pointed out that she wrote a short story to bridge two of her novels. And have you read it yet?

Sarina

33:19

I have not. So you can't spoil it.

Jess

33:21

No, no, no I'm not going to spoil it.

Sarina

33:22

But it is a genius idea.

Jess

33:26

How clever is that? And here's what she does. There's stuff in that bridge story that I would have been like, 'Oh no, save that for the novels. That's the good stuff.' And she doesn't, that story stands on its own as a really lovely piece of writing that gets to own its own turf within the universe of those two novels. And so, I loved it. It was included at the end of the audio. She reads it actually, Katherine Center reads it, at the end of How To Walk Away, I think. And loved it. So good. And that idea is great. And her website, as we've been saying, is super colorful and wonderful and yeah, she's delightful.

Sarina

34:47

Keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game. Until next week.

Jess

34:53

This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.

This is a public episode. Get access to private episodes at amwriting.substack.com/subscribe

Nov 08 2019

35mins

Play

Episode 183: #FacebookforWriters

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Writers need a page, a profile and a whole lot of patience and persistence to even feel like we’re close to getting Facebook “right.”

The question first appeared, as these things do, in the #AmWriting Facebook group. A book is coming! I’m on Facebook (obviously), but do I need an author page in addition to my profile? Why—and what should I do with one once I’ve got one?

Our answer is yes, but of course it doesn’t stop there. In this episode, we talk the ins and outs of Facebook for writers of all kinds, with a primer on the basics and then a few ninja-level tips from Sarina.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, a preview of the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, November 4, 2019: Top 5 Things You Don’t Need to Be a “Real” Writer. We’d love your support, and we hope you’ll love our Top 5s. Join in for actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.

As always, this episode (and every episode) will appear for all subscribers in your usual podcast listening places, totally free as the #AmWriting Podcast has always been. This shownotes email is free, too, so please—forward it to a friend, and if you haven’t already, join our email list and be on top of it with the shownotes and a transcript every time there’s a new episode.

To support the podcast and help it stay free, subscribe to our weekly #WritersTopFive email.

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

The #AmWriting Facebook Group

Grown and Flown on Facebook

Ron Lieber’s Author Facebook Page

Sarina’s Facebook Page

Sarendipity (Sarina’s Facebook Fan Group)

Jess’s Facebook Page

KJ’s Facebook Page, which she didn’t even remember existed but will now tend as directed by Sarina.

ManyChat

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

Jess: Home, Run Away, Harlan Coben (also mentioned, Tell No One)

KJ: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal

Sarina: Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo

#FaveIndieBookstore

Gibson’s, Concord NH

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess here, Sarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

The image in our podcast illustration is by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                        00:01                    Hello listeners, KJ here. If you’re in with us every week, you’re what I like to call “people of the book.’ And some of us book people discover somewhere along the way that not only we writers, we’re people with a gift for encouraging other writers. For some of us, that comes out in small ways, but for others it’s a calling and an opportunity to build a career doing work you love. Our sponsor, Author Accelerator, provides book coaching to authors (like me) but also needs and trains book coaches. If that’s got your ears perked up, head to https://www.authoraccelerator.com and click on “become a book coach.” Is it recording?

Jess:                                     00:02                    Now it's recording, go ahead.

KJ:                                        00:45                    This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing.

Jess:                                     00:45                    Alright, let's start over.

KJ:                                        00:45                    Awkward pause, I'm going to rustle some papers.

Jess:                                     00:45                    Okay.

KJ:                                        00:54                    Now one, two, three. Hey all, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #AmWriting. #AmWriting is your podcast, your weekly podcast, our podcast, about writing all the things. Fiction, nonfiction, pitches, proposals, essays you know what? All the things, except poetry. None of us do that. But we did have a poet on once. I dunno, I just was thinking that the other day like, wait a minute, it's not quite all the things. Alright, back to the regularly scheduled introduction. #AmWriting is the podcast about sitting down and getting your work, whatever it is, done.

Jess:                                     01:40                    KJ, before I introduce myself, speaking of the intro changing up, we got an email this week from someone who said, 'Wait, you changed the pattern at the beginning of the episode and I don't know what to do with that.' It was very, very funny.

KJ:                                        01:54                    I love that people go back and listen to all the episodes. It brings me incredible joy.

Jess:                                     01:58                    Yes, it does. I am Jess Lahey, I'm the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book about preventing substance abuse in kids. And I write at various places including the New York Times, Washington Post and the Atlantic.

Sarina:                                 02:13                    And I'm Sarina Bowen, the author of 30 plus contemporary romance novels. And you can find more of me at sarinabowen.com.

KJ:                                        02:22                    And I am KJ Dell'Antonia, a novelist and also the author of the nonfiction book How to Be a Happier Parent, first novel will be out next summer, more to come I hope. You'll sometimes still find my work at the New York Times and in a variety of other places. So that's it, that's who we are. We know some things and today our plan is to talk about what we know about Facebook. But before we do, I just want to thank everyone who has gone in and subscribed to our weekly emails that come out every week about the podcast. That is a new thing that we're doing and I love that people are finding it useful. Every week we send you little something about what the episode is, all the links, and a way to see a transcript, which is pretty cool. And also huge shout out and thanks to those of you who have signed up to support the podcast and get our weekly top fives for writers. It's huge, we feel so grateful and excited that you guys want to support us, and want to be a part of it, and want to get our top fives, which we're having a great time doing. So you know, thanks to everyone for that. And if you're looking to do either of those things, head over to amwritingpodcast.com and you'll find all the links there.

Jess:                                     03:42                    Alright, let's do it. You said our topic is Facebook. What do you mean about this Facebook thing?

KJ:                                        03:54                    Well, it's a great place to put up pictures of your kids and offend all your relatives on your political views. But as a writer, people have questions like, 'Should you have an author page and a personal page? Should you do everything from your personal page? How has this evolved over the years? And I have wrestled with it. Sarina has come to some pretty good terms with it and I'll just also throw out there that back in 2013 when I started with the Times, they actually said to me, 'We do not want to create a Facebook page for the Motherlode blog, which doesn't exist anymore anyway. So just use your own. It was one of the best gifts that they gave me. I don't think it was actually the right choice for them, but well, and here and today I'm sitting here with no author page, but the AmWriting page and everything I do professionally ends up on my personal page and I'm not sure that's where I should be.

Jess:                                     05:01                    I'm a mess. Sarina, you go cause you've got a whole thing. You use it beautifully.

Sarina:                                 05:07                    Well, thank you. But we have to talk about vocabulary for a second. Because people have a profile, not a page. And we just want to be careful to use that vocabulary correctly because if listeners go and try to untangle our suggestions, they might run into a little trouble. So every person, like the way that we would define a person has the right under the Facebook terms of service, to have one profile. So, if you use a pseudonym for your writing, you may find yourself in the awkward position of trying to fake it to Facebook that you can have two profiles. And yeah, so that's a good time. But the profile is the main way that most people look at Facebook, you login with your profile. Now a page, you can have as many pages as you want. A page is meant to be representing something that's not a person. Like a brand or a business or it can be a person, like a personality. So I have a profile under Sarina White Bowen, it's three words. And then I have a Sarina Bowen page. And pages and profiles have different things that they can do, they're not identical in their functionality. And that's why we get into these tricky discussions because the way that pages and profiles behave is not identical and that's where some of the weird fun comes in.

Jess:                                     06:54                    Well and honestly that's where most of my apathy/confusion lies. Mainly because for me, my profile, Jessica Lahey. Actually, I think my profile is Jessica Potts Lahey because my maiden name is Potts. So that's my personal profile, the thing I originally signed up for Facebook with. That has long since gone out the window as a private, personal thing. Like I get 30 friend requests a day and I accept some and don't. But most of them are people I don't even know. I've just long since given up the ghost on that. But it is how I keep in touch with childhood friends and high school acquaintances and things like that. Then I also have a page as Jessica Lahey and that was something my publisher wanted and it was important to them. But see, here's the problem - if you're accepting any old person out there to your profile, and I'm posting things to my page and to my profile and honestly, there's a lot of overlap between the two. I wish I'd been more strategic about this from the beginning. And I somehow had a profile that was really just personal stuff and then shuttled everyone else over to my page, like put up kind of some kind of like, 'No, I will not friend you, but here's my page.' I wish I'd been more strategic about that, but I didn't and so now I have a mess. I have, two things, neither of which is personal, and both kind of get duplicate posts.

Sarina:                                 08:28                    Well, I could make you feel better by telling you that we're all in the same mess, honestly. Because Facebook has treated the two things differently over time. So, it used to be that in the glory days of 2010 you could make a page and even if you'd gotten this right from the very first day...

Jess:                                     08:53                    If I could have seen the future...

Sarina:                                 08:55                    Well, that's the thing. You would have still not been able to do it exactly right because the behavior that would have been optimized at the time would have changed. So back in the glory days, you could've made that page that you were just talking about and kept your profile private and you could have posted the things you were writing and thinking about it on this page and people would see it and they would interact with you and your page would grow, and grow, and grow. And you might have like 30,000 followers. However, Facebook has very much become a pay to play platform and now they would want you to pay every time you put up a post on your page that you wanted more than say 5% of your followers to see. So the fact that when you share meaningful things on your profile, at least there's some chance that the people who are connected to you will see it. So it's not entirely clear to me that you wouldn't be a very sad owner of a highly followed page by this point. But everybody who relies upon Facebook to push content into the world has been increasingly unhappy with their results because it's not just that Facebook wants your money (and they absolutely do want it), but also just the number of pages in the world grew at such an exponential rate that they can't actually show everybody all the stuff that they're following anymore. Like if you liked your dentist's office in 2013, then you know, the odds of you actually seeing a post from the dentist are really bad. Like the pages who you might actually see are the people who have been out there working it so hard since the very beginning, with a nice pace of content release, and a good interaction that...it's very few pages that are still getting that kind of play. You mentioned that you get a lot of friend requests. Facebook actually caps the number of friends you can have at 5,000.

Jess:                                     11:05                    Early on I think it was like 2000 or something. But yeah, it's definitely 5,000. I'm getting close and that worries me. Because what if someone I really want to follow, that's why I don't accept all of them or even real people...

KJ:                                        11:19                    People don't know you didn't accept them. And probably most of their goals is just to follow you, which is what happens if someone puts in a friend request and you say no, they end up following you.

Jess:                                     11:32                    That's right. Yeah, I forgot about that.

KJ:                                        11:35                    At least you've got that going for you.

Sarina:                                 11:36                    So, another factor is that now Messenger is tied in with the people you're friends with on Facebook. So I have stopped accepting friend requests completely, unless of course I met the person.

KJ:                                        11:51                    Unless it's your friend.

Sarina:                                 11:53                    Or, but I got some friend requests after that retreat we went to in Maine and I accepted those. But I don't accept random requests anymore because I've discovered it's just a way for readers to bug me. Like when is such and such a thing coming out and you know, there just aren't enough hours in the day for me to do a good job answering those messages.

Jess:                                     12:16                    Actually, I'm so glad you said that because that has been a source of anxiety and frustration for me in that the number of direct messages I'm getting via various apps has gone through the roof and it's a lot of people asking very personal questions about their own children. I got one the other day and she sent me this long, long, long message about what she's going through with her child. And she wrote the word please and she sent a picture of herself with her child.

KJ:                                        12:48                    I wish you could auto reply from Messenger. Because if you had that that said, 'I'm sorry, I can't...' I suppose you could just type one. Okay, we're going to get back to how everyone should use Facebook in a second, but just to solve this particular problem with which I am somewhat familiar, type something up, and imagine yourself as your assistant. 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Lahey can't respond to all.' And you know you're gonna feel like a jerk, but Mrs. Lahey can't respond personally to everyone and that leaves you the freedom to do it. To take a step back, we have people on our Facebook group page, which is a whole other thing, and is a great tool for various kinds of authors, particularly I think in nonfiction. Someone was saying, 'Here I am and my first book is coming out and should I create an author page?' And there are reasons to say yes to that, I think.

Sarina:                                 14:07                    Yes, there are. One of the reasons you might need an author page is if you want to advertise something, you can't advertise from a profile, you have to advertise from a page. So, the main reason that the Sarina Bowen author page continues to grow a following is because of paid advertising. And when you use paid advertising you collect likes sort of by accident. So you should never run the kind of ad that just gets likes because that's pointless. But if you have something to advertise like 'Look, this is my new book. Here is the link at Apple books.' Then that is something I advertise and the page does grow its following that way. So I would say that if you have even a 20% chance of ever wanting to advertise something, you should set up that author page. But then you should not obsess about how many followers it has. You should post only often enough so that it looks like the lights are on. And you don't need to worry about it. It needs to be set up so that there's somewhere people can find this kind of information, like the link to join your newsletter, and the link for your own personal webpage. So you need to be listed there because a lot of people will use Facebook as like a global directory. So you need to be find-able, but you do not need to obsess about how many people are following you there. So you can really put it as one of those things on your Sunday promo calendar where you're like, 'Oh, time to stop by the neighborhood of my Facebook page and maybe update something. You know, a book I'm reading or an article I put out this week.'

Jess:                                     16:05                    I use it for my speaking calendar, too. Like you know, 'Oh I'm going to be in the next week or month or whatever I'm going to be in so-and-so.' One thing I would like to add is that so early on in my promotion plan for Gift of Failure, my publisher very much wanted me to have a Facebook page because one of the things they did during my pub week was that I added my publisher as an administrator to my Facebook page and they posted a couple of ads. So that was wonderful and helpful.

KJ:                                        16:37                    That's really nice. I have not heard of a publisher doing that, which just means I haven't heard of it. I advertised my book personally a couple of times. But I actually did it from the #AmWriting page, I think, because we have a page and I don't remember if I have a page.

Jess:                                     17:00                    I think they did two or three ads just during pub week itself. And that was nice. They wanted to know as part of my original, the fact that I had one was what interested them. So I don't think they actually care that much about my followers. Who knows. Anyway, I want to make sure that was in there.

KJ:                                        17:22                    When you pay to place a Facebook ad from your page, that has nothing to do with how many followers your page has. It goes to that subset of people that you hopefully carefully create within the Facebook ad maker.

Sarina:                                 17:40                    That's right. The ad engine is a vast thing. There are entire podcasts about the Facebook ad engine. So, we won't cover that today but it does give you access to basically everyone on Facebook and Instagram.

Jess:                                     17:58                    And you can target very carefully and all that sort of thing?

Sarina:                                 18:00                    Yes, sort of carefully. But yes.

Jess:                                     18:03                    Okay. Anything else here?

Sarina:                                 18:06                    I do have a page and I do have a group, cause you mentioned groups, and groups are lovely and for a couple of reasons. One is that they gel with what Mark Zuckerberg claims to be his new idea for what Facebook should be, which is groups of like-minded people talking to each other. So I actually have a fan group on Facebook.

Jess:                                     18:41                    I belong and I love it. I love your fan group and it is so much fun to go in there and look at what's being posted. I love your fan group.

Sarina:                                 18:51                    It's called Sarendipity and I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having a fandom. I don't like to use the word fan, I'm not saying that I don't use it, but I don't really want to be that person. It's kind of like there's always a party that I'm hosting and I have to show up, you know. But what happens is that people tend to go there to talk about things that come up in my books and it really takes the pressure off of me. So in May, I had this book where one of the characters, who was known as lobster shorts, that was his avatar on an app. And one of the central conceits of the book is that the other person in the book doesn't know that lobster shorts is really his neighbor. So they have this whole conversation and I swear there are still people posting various lobster clothing in my group, you know, five months later I'm still seeing, look at this lobster shirt I found. So that's super fun because then the discussion doesn't have to be about whether or not you liked the book or what I'm having for lunch. It's like a commonality. This thing that we've all found funny and here's a little more of it. So my group is full of posts about apples because of one of my series.

Jess:                                     20:21                    Your group also, I have to say, there was one thread that was posted by one of your fans and it was a question and it was, 'How did you discover Sarina Bowen?' And it was one of the most and incredibly fascinating look at how readers find authors. Some of them were, 'I discovered her through Elle Kennedy, I was an Elle Kennedy reader.' Some were, 'Amazon recommended Sarina because I read X'. It was fascinating and it was a wealth of information about how people stumble upon new authors. I loved reading that thread.

Sarina:                                 20:56                    You're right, that was fascinating. But you also said that I didn't post it. There are lots of authors who do ask that question, who are able to ask questions about themselves without wanting to jump off something high. And, but I can't, it's just not me to do that. There's also other romance authors who posts like Towel Tuesday. And so on Tuesday there'll be some photo of a guy in a towel and the other romance readers are like, 'Ooh, good one.'

KJ:                                        21:23                    I thought it was going to be the author and a towel. That's brave.

Sarina:                                 21:29                    Well now you're really scaring me. That's not me either. And I really struggle with what is my role in that group. And there are so many ways to do it. And if you are a person, as an author, who is comfortable hosting that kind of party all the time, then the group is probably your greatest asset.

KJ:                                        21:54                    Alternatively, if you are a person who, as an author, wants to generally answer those kinds of questions that Jess is getting by Messenger, who has a nonfiction platform, which is self-help or that kind of thing you could create... Yeah. Ron Lieber does it really well, that's what you were going to say.

Jess:                                     22:26                    No, I was going to say Grown and Flown, Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, they do that incredibly well. They use those questions as fodder for posts on their massive, massive group for Grown and Flown.

KJ:                                        22:42                    Right, but they started out as a group and a blog and only later became a book. I guess what I'm saying is if you are Lori Gottlieb, or you, or Ron Lieber, you could use Facebook to start a group in which people discuss the topic of your book. But, I think that there would be a pretty high maintenance requirement there. I mean, at a certain point it would probably become somewhat self sustaining, but for a while I feel like it would be really demanding that you find and put up questions, and respond to things, and keep track. I think that'd be a pretty big time investment, but it might be a worthwhile one.

Jess:                                     23:30                    It would be a big investment.

KJ:                                        23:31                    I'm not suggesting you do it, this is a general. Let me just say, I don't think that's you, you need to write books. But there might be people for whom it would be a great strategy. For example, the author of Quiet, Susan Cain has said, 'I thought about writing another book and then I realized, no, my mission is to keep talking about this one.' She does it in a different forum. But if that's where you are, if your mission for the next few years is to talk about the topic of your nonfiction probably. Then that could be good.

Jess:                                     24:15                    As a speaker, I have to say, reader questions are incredible fodder for either articles, new chapters, blog posts, things to talk about on stage. I have this sort of wealth of stories and many of them came from readers who wrote me, or posted, or messaged, or whatever and said, 'Here's what's going on and here's how I've used the things you wrote about.' So that can be an incredibly valuable thing and if you want to mine that for all it's worth, a little bit of effort could pay off big time.

KJ:                                        24:47                    Right. All right, so we got the basics. You've probably already got your profile. Certainly there's no one in our Facebook group asking questions about how to use Facebook that doesn't already have a profile. You're gonna need a page, but you don't need to do anything more there besides keep the lights on. You could contemplate a group, you need to think about how you use Messenger, and what else? What am I missing in terms of the basics?

Sarina:                                 25:14                    Well, we definitely covered the basics, but I could give you a couple of ninja level things. So my page has an auto-responder that is hosted by a service called ManyChat. So if you go to the Sarina Bowen page and you hit the button there to send a message, you will immediately get a reply from a bot and it says something like, 'Hello. And then insert first name of person. Thank you for reaching out. The best place to find information about upcoming Sarina Bowen books is this link right here.'

Jess:                                     26:09                    Brilliant.

KJ:                                        26:13                    That's for Messenger messages or posts

Sarina:                                 26:17                    Messenger, but it's Messenger to the page, not the profile. So it also says, 'And if you are a man who just wants to chat or show me your photo, you will not like my response.'

KJ:                                        26:35                    Even if you're wearing a towel. Especially if you're wearing a towel.

Jess:                                     26:39                    I do like that when I get messages like that, like gross, disgusting, stuff like that. Often for example, in Instagram it will shield it from your view. And so in order to see whatever picture someone has sent you, you have to actually click on it. And I have decided not to click on a few things that I receive via the messaging part of Instagram.

Sarina:                                 27:05                    Weirdly, the what to blur out trigger is really strange, though. Because I click on them all the time and it's usually like just a photo of a book on a table and it's like my book, you know. So that's one thing that you can hook up. Now, this is the ninja super top secret thing is that also ManyChat, will collect the identities of everyone who ever messages you.

Jess:                                     27:34                    To what end, Sarina? To what end?

Sarina:                                 27:40                    I will tell you. A page can also always message whomever has messaged the page before. So if you run a contest where to enter the contest, you send the page a message, then ManyChat can retain that list of hundreds of people and then randomly messaged them when you decide. So I could right now just blanket message, all the whatever thousand people who've ever messaged my page before with, 'Hey, guess what? I have a new book.'.

Jess:                                     28:16                    Oh my gosh, you're so brilliant.

Sarina:                                 28:17                    I don't actually use it, though. Because I find that people are very confused about whether I'm messaging them personally this way. Like it's not common enough a thing to break down that wall. And I don't actually want people to think that I'm messaging them. So, it's not a useful tool for me, but it does exist. And the other Ninja level thing is about the page itself and how nobody sees them anymore. So I do keep track. My page has either 14 or 17,000 followers. I can't remember right now. And the average post is seen by like 1200 people. So it's less than 10%. But if I didn't do certain things, then it would drop even further because the Facebook algorithm looks carefully at each post to decide if it's going to love you or not. So if you're always posting Amazon links then it hates that. But if you're always posting to your own website, it hates that less. And if you're posting text with no links or pictures at all, it loves that because that seems really genuine to Facebook. Like if you just have a haiku to share or something.

Jess:                                     29:53                    Is that why people started doing that thing where they started posting in the first comment instead of in the post itself?

Sarina:                                 29:59                    The link? Yeah, the link in the comments. Yeah. I'm not sure. I think Facebook caught onto that immediately, though.

KJ:                                        30:05                    So, interesting, completely random side note, Facebook doesn't want you to sell animals anymore. And of course Facebook is actually the largest place to advertise horses. So our barn manager, I just turned her on to go ahead and put a picture, but you put the link or you put the ad in the comments. Because if you put an ad they throw it off and it's got to do with puppy mills and that kind of thing, which I'm totally supportive of. But Facebook killed all the sites upon which people once sold horses and they have not yet been replaced with anything. And it's a problem. But, that does still work to some extent I think. The link in the comments.

Sarina:                                 30:57                    Okay, well this is how I handle it. A page can also have what are called top fans. That is Facebook's word for it. So if you turn this feature on to your page, you might have to have a certain number of followers, I don't know what it is. You turn on the top fan badge and then Facebook will actually track for you who it considers to be your top fans. I believe I have, I don't know, a couple hundred of them. And top fan badges are earned by commenting on things and liking things. So I actually run a giveaway like once a month we pick a random top fan and they get to have a prize of their choosing and the prizes are a signed book shipped anywhere, an item from the Sarina Bowen swag store, or a bad, but flattering poem in your honor.

Jess:                                     31:56                    While we're on the topic and because I have helped you with some of this in the past and I have had to deal with it myself, when you run these sorts of things and you say shipped anywhere, just keep in mind how much it costs to ship to Australia. Just keep it in mind. Just think about it when you do it.

KJ:                                        32:14                    There's a reason people do U.S. only and apologies to those who can't participate, but whoa.

Sarina:                                 32:23                    Yeah, one book to Australia is $22.50 and yesterday I shipped a box to France for $57 50. Ouch., right?

KJ:                                        32:35                    Groups have a similar thing to the top fan, which is the conversation starters.

Jess:                                     32:40                    Yeah, I love that. And there's also like a visual storyteller. We have it in our group and, according to our group, I'm an administrator, but I'm also a visual storyteller because I post a lot of pictures to our group.

KJ:                                        32:53                    Well, no prizes for you. I'm sorry.

Sarina:                                 32:55                    Well, the point of giving prizes to top fans is to give an incentive to comment. If you were to go look at my page right now (and I have no idea what the last thing we posted), but you'll see like 'Can't wait' and just people chiming in and the chiming in tells the Facebook algorithm that that piece of content is valuable or interesting. So Facebook will give it a little more love. I mean there are days when it feels like my entire job is to try to outwit the Facebook algorithm and not everybody needs to think like this or operate like this, but it's quite the rabbit hole.

Jess:                                     33:37                    Well, and we've talked about this in the past, is that certain social media platforms are great for certain things. And for me it's Twitter and for you it's Facebook. And we've talked about this in the past and partially it's a self-perpetuating thing. But when Sarina goes on my webpage (which I let her do from time to time and look at where my traffic's coming from) you know, mine's coming from Twitter and hers overwhelmingly comes from Facebook. So if you know that the genre that you write in is Facebook oriented, then this is really helpful information. For me, I'm trying to figure out how to best use Facebook. And it may be different for nonfiction authors, but I think when you know that that's where your fans are it's worth spending a little bit extra time and effort, as you do, to engage that audience. It's all about decision making.

Sarina:                                 34:27                    And in order to remove some of the emotion from it. So yesterday I got very depressed because I have a book launch coming up and I realized just how much I hate launching. Like it's a kind of a popularity contest that I don't really want to enter. I don't enjoy that week of share me, share me, love me, buy me. So one of the ways that I get around this is that every two months I take note of where the growth in my social media following is happening. So I'll just note the totals of how many followers are on the page, how many people in the group, how many on Instagram, how many on BookBub and how many on my newsletter list. Not because I'm obsessed with the totals, but because I want to know which thing is growing the fastest?

KJ:                                        35:23                    Where should you invest your time?

Sarina:                                 35:25                    Right? Where is the heat? So that I don't obsess about my Facebook page if that's not obsessable this week.

KJ:                                        35:34                    Well, my loose take on what Facebook is good for is nonfiction of the kind that I have written and that Jess writes, parenting stuff, family oriented stuff, self-help style stuff. Basically, probably nonfiction with more of a female audience. I don't know what I mean, Facebook is definitely both genders. Does it skew female? Do we know?

Jess:                                     36:07                    I don't know, but I do know that parenting stuff, at least from my perspective, does incredibly well on Facebook. And then the added bonus is that some of the outfits I write for like the New York Times and the Atlantic and Washington Post have very active Facebook pages. And when they post my stuff to Facebook, holy moly, the shares for those articles go through the roof. And then of course other Facebook pages pick up those articles. And I'm very lucky in that some of my more evergreen content the Atlantic will repost from time to time, thus revitalizing an article I wrote four years ago, which is lovely. Yeah. So from that perspective it's really useful.

KJ:                                        36:47                    Well, I often think of it is Twitter for serious nonfiction, Facebook for lighter nonfiction, Instagram for fiction. But I think that is just a gross, gross oversimplification as evidenced by the fact that Sarina makes a really good use of Facebook. And Facebook's ads for fiction, especially independently published fiction, are kind of I think without parallel. And there's no barrier to entry like there is on Instagram. You can't advertise on Instagram. You can't even link on Instagram. You can't advertise either, can you? Am I right, Sarina?

Sarina:                                 37:23                    You could advertise on Instagram.

KJ:                                        37:25                    Oh you can still advertise, okay. Alright, fine. Well, this is good. Okay.

Jess:                                     37:31                    This is really helpful.

KJ:                                        37:32                    We've laid out some useful basics, given me some ideas. I hope we've given some of the rest of you guys ideas. Oh my gosh. Books.

Jess:                                     37:56                    Yeah, do we want to talk about what we've been reading? I have a new author that I've recently discovered that's fun to read. You know there are certain really popular authors that are sort of are in the periphery of your awareness and yet you never actually listened to them. I finally listened to a Harlan Coben book recently. So I listened to Harlan Coben because a narrator that I really, really enjoy - Steven Weber, he played one half of the duo on the show Wings in the 80s, and he's still out there doing some great stuff. He's an audio book narrator and I happen to love his audio narration voice. You can click not only on authors in a lot of apps, but you can click on the narrator, too. So if you really like a narrator, try other things they've narrated. And that's what I did. And I've been listening to a Harlan Coben book. I listened to one called Home that was kind of interesting, but now I'm listening to one called Run Away (it's two separate words). I think it's his newest one. The opening was so beautifully done - and what's really fun about Harlan Coben is that he's funny without trying to be comic. Like he's just a witty writer and it's really fun in a way that I don't get to read a lot. And so he's highly prolific. There's tons out there. He has series. He has stand alones and so it's nice to have a new author to be able to dip into and learn new things from. So that's Harlan Coben Run Away so far I'm loving it. Home was really, really interesting. I like that one, too.

Sarina:                                 39:32                    Well, Jess, I love Harlan Coben. And there's a lot to learn there, also. One of his novels (my favorite one) was made into a movie in French.

Jess:                                     39:49                    What's the book?

Sarina:                                 39:51                    I'm trying to figure that out right now. Tell No One. It's a wonderful novel.

Jess:                                     39:56                    I actually originally heard about him because Stephen King talks about him a lot. I think they're buds or something or he just really likes his work, but I just never occurred to me to listen to any of his books or read any of his books. But I'm glad I am.

Sarina:                                 40:13                    Yeah. So Tell No One, it's a great read and it's a lovely movie where they've changed in New York to Paris and you know, enjoy. The book I'm reading is Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. It's a wonderful novel that is actually fantasy. I'm probably mis-genre-ing this novel right now. There's magic in it, but I swear this book it's probably going to do great, but it's like written just for me. It takes place in New Haven and on the Yale campus and it supposes that the secret societies are actually each the holder of a special kind of magic. It's hilarious and I have so many questions about - they basically didn't bother changing the names of anything. They just went for it. And I'm fascinated.

KJ:                                        41:17                    I love that. And yeah, there was just something on our Facebook page someone going, 'Should I use a real town? Should I slightly change the town?' And I think that is always an interesting question because we're all sort of asking ourselves, 'Well, do I have permission to use all the names of the secret societies at Yale? Do I need permission? Is there a secret society that will come after me if I failed to ask permission?' Yeah, that's really cool. It sounds like a fun book, too. Oh, mine. So two weeks ago, I think, I shouted out The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal. And I also (because I loved The Lager Queen so much) grabbed his first book, which is Kitchens of the Great Midwest and similarly, it's a lot of fun.

KJ:                                        42:08                    It's smart fiction. It's very, very readable. And this is a fun example of something else we were talking about two weeks ago, which is following an author throughout their career. Now, J. Ryan Stradal (who is a man, at least based on his author picture) only has two books. And Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the first one and The Lager Queen is the second one. And Kitchens of the Great Midwest is good, I really enjoyed it. Lager Queen is better in a lot of technical, and also just sort of reader grabbing kinds of ways, and that is just fun to see. It's fun to watch people evolve, but they're both really fun books.

Jess:                                     42:49                    Cool, excellent.

KJ:                                        42:52                    Bookstore? I know we have a favorite Indie because we talked about it.

Jess:                                     42:52                    Yes, we do. We did. We would like to talk about Gibsons. Gibsons is a bookstore in New Hampshire, in Concord, New Hampshire. And for me, it holds a place in my heart because it was one of the places I first spoke about Gift of Failure to an audience (unfortunately it was pouring rain that night) to an audience of I believe four. Two people who had come for the book talk and one person who was trying to get out of the rain and had no idea what they were doing there and a staff member of the bookstore. So despite that, is a fantastic bookstore. I love it there. They have great curation. I think, Sarina, you talked about really enjoying that bookstore, too.

Sarina:                                 43:37                    I also did an event. For my, the women's fiction novel failure that we don't talk about anymore.

Jess:                                     43:46                    And did you have more than four people?

Sarina: