Matilda Butler, ABC’s of Writing #23
As you probably know, Kendra Bonnett and I have two passions — memoir writing and memoir marketing. Yet the most frequent comment we hear from memoir writers is that they just want to write. They want someone else to do the marketing. This is a bit like giving birth and then hoping someone else will help your baby grow up and become a big success. It’s hard work getting through the birth process and it’s more hard work helping the child grow into a productive adult. But that’s the way it is.
It’s the same with your book. Given the general, but not universal, negative feelings about marketing your memoir, you can imagine how delighted we are when we run into someone who has embraced the new reality of author marketing. Ingrid Ricks is one of those authors.
The story began several months ago. We ran across the opening to her memoir Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story and were taken with the power of her opening. We didn’t know Ingrid. Her memoir hadn’t even been published. However, we quoted her opening and that recently led her to contact us.
She shared with us the story of her journey to publishing and we thought it so valuable that we asked her to write the details. We’re sharing this story with you today because we believe it may provide some new insight into the process. Then she also gave us her 7 Tips to Publishing/Marketing a Memoir. You can find her 7 Tips on http://womensmemoirs.com
I’d thought I made it when an agent called saying she enjoyed my manuscript and wanted to represent me. That is, until five minutes into our conversation, when she told me that without a solid platform, I could kiss my publishing chances goodbye.
For a minute I was perplexed. What did she mean by “platform”? I worked as a PR/promotions consultant in my day job and knew how to market my book. Hadn’t she read my book proposal that detailed how I planned to sell it once the publishers did their job and got it out into the universe? I had already launched a book web site and Facebook page. What else did they expect me to do?
“Publishers don’t care about what you say you can do AFTER your book is published,” the agent said quietly. “They want to know who is already lined up to buy your book. I can’t tell you how many great books I’ve represented recently that have been turned down by publishers because the author didn’t have a built-in platform. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
I hung up the phone feeling overwhelmed but determined. I hit the Internet and began researching, and immediately stumbled on Scribd, a social publishing community with tens of millions of monthly visitors. It was August 2010 and I set to work, uploading excerpts from my book, reading work from writers I enjoyed and slowly developing a following. Over the next few months I spent time on the site nearly every day, connecting with readers and sharing my work. To expand my base, I also started a story blog and began profiling interesting people who were turning their dreams into reality. And because I needed to keep priming the pump, I also began writing essays and discovered I loved the essay format. After a few months, Scribd began featuring my work on their home page, which in turn drove more followers.
My agent started shopping my memoir in early December and attracted the attention of several top publishers. But when their feedback came, it was always the same: Enjoyed the story but the memoir market is saturated and it’s tough selling these types of stories. Good luck and no thanks.
After a few of these, I decided that part of the problem was my manuscript. I told my agent to stop shopping it around until I could hire a top editor to evaluate it for me. The editor I wanted was booked out five months in advance and didn’t have a slot open until mid-July. That gave me more time to keep pounding away on my platform. I began cross-promoting my excerpts and essays on Smith Magazine and Open Salon, two other open submission platforms, and soon my work was being spotlighted on these platforms as well.
By June, four of the essays and book excerpts I had published on Open Salon were selected for publication on the parent magazine, Salon, and my exposure soared. By the time I received my manuscript evaluation back from the editor in late July, I realized that I had a platform and I no longer needed a publisher. I said goodbye to my agent, spent six weeks doing nonstop rewrites thanks to the amazing direction I received from the editor, hired a cover designer, proofreader and e-book formatter, and struck out on my own.
On October 1st, I launched Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story as an eBook on Amazon, where it has resided on the bestseller list for its category ever since (fingers crossed it stays there). And I recently ordered my first print run of paperbacks, with pre-orders from as far away as Portugal and France.
Thanks for reading the story of my memoir publishing and marketing story to date.
If you’d like to read her 7 Tips, just click here.