Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Journey of a Manuscript, or, Trying to Fit a Circle into a Square

Something quietly extraordinary is happening. How to put this simply? I have been working on a manuscript that I call Searching for the Heart Radical for well over a decade, and I finally feel close to bringing this process to a close.

It is hard for me to say definitively when I started working on this book, for many of the stories and themes in the manuscript have existed in various incarnations for many, many years. I suppose I have had the feeling that I am actually working on a book ever since I took off on my second trip to China in 1999, even if I wrote the bulk of the pieces at least five years later, while in grad school. Most of the oldest writing has been cut by now, but some ancient passages still remain, cut and pasted into newer forms.

For years I worked on individual pieces, writing when I felt called to explore a particular story or theme. I saw how the pieces could one day all be linked together, but I didn’t worry about the greater whole. I wanted to see what kind of structure they fell into naturally instead of trying to impose structure from the onset.

Gradually, I started to get more serious about writing and publishing. I became a better editor, and held my writing to higher standards. I went to grad school and got my MFA, I learned about the competitiveness of the industry, and started to think about how to market my book.

Somewhere along the way I heard (from several ‘in the know’ sources) that “essays don’t sell." Since depending on the piece (or the person), my writing could be categorized as either memoir or personal essays or some even lyric essays, I decided that it was prudent to call my book a memoir, or rather, a collection of memoirs. These days there were plenty of writers who were publishing creative non-traditional memoirs that were non-linear or written in multiple point of views, like Abigail Thomas’s Safekeeping or Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (both of which happened to be amongst my favorite books). So, memoir it was, I decided, as I drafted my book proposal and began to query agents.

Many agents were excited by my query—it sounded like something they might be able to sell. Quite a few asked to see my sample chapters, and then asked to see the entire manuscript (or what I had so far of it, since with nonfiction, the manuscript does not yet need to be completed when you query). It was encouraging. My writing had been workshopped by many, and revised a thousand times. I knew it was worthy of publication. I felt hopeful that eventually my book would find its home.

But then the trail of rejections. The first agent that saw the whole thing (thus far) liked aspects of my writing, but ultimately, could not see it as a whole. Felt it read too much as separate pieces, lacked a narrative arc. But I was convinced that if she could see the whole thing as I envisioned, if she could see how the yet unwritten pieces would tie it all together, she would see that it did have an arc, very much so. So I decided to finish the book before I bothered to query more. Then, if I still got the same feedback, I would know for sure that it was based on the actual writing and not the outline of the writing to come.

This was back in 2007, I believe. And so I kept writing. And writing. And writing. I delved into long pieces about my spiritual evolution, about my youthful involvement with the Tibetan Independence movement, about my history of intimate relationships. I wrote short “bridge” pieces which helped fill in some blanks or explain jumps in chronology. I knew that in order for a memoir to be marketable it needed to have a clear idea, and I admittedly had trouble articulating in a nutshell what my book was about. Geographically, it took me from America to China and back and forth several times again, and so in this respect, it was easiest to describe the journey in a linear perspective. But I knew that this wasn’t a travelogue. And nor was it a book “about China.” Sure, you could learn lots of interesting details about modern China, but at core, it was a book about an interior journey, a spiritual quest, an identity quest, a cross-cultural love story, a coming of age tale—all of the above. I revised my synopsis many times, and finally alighted on a description that I felt did it justice. And yet, there was always some part of me that knew I wasn’t entirely representing it truthfully.

The manuscript grew and grew. It was almost twice as long as it had been when I finished grad school. It had definitely become much more of a proper “memoir”, and yet, inside I knew that many of the newer pieces (or oldest pieces that I kept trying to breathe new life into) weren’t as strong. But if this were to be a memoir with a narrative arc, I couldn’t see how to cut them; I had to somehow make them work.

At a certain point, a couple years ago, I decided to start sending the manuscript directly to small presses where it was more likely to find a home anyway. Again, I got enough interest to keep me hopeful. And yet, now I was pregnant. And soon, I would have a baby. And I knew that I would no longer have the time to keep researching and sending it out en masse. (Not to mention how expensive it gets to send a 350 page manuscript to New York, and how much time it takes-- months and months-- for them to reply.)

So fast-forward to now, almost eighteen months after giving birth, when I finally have the time and presence of mind again to start thinking about this pesky, beloved, dreaded manuscript. I’ve always known, I can’t just abandon it, be done with it. Some kind of closure needs to happen. And I’ve always trusted that this is not just some pipe dream. So what to do?

I’d never entirely rejected the idea of self-publishing, but I considered it a last resort. I wanted the esteem of being published with a real press. And yet, increasingly, I realize that the most important thing at this point is just to share this work, bring closure to this creative cycle, especially since I’ve long since moved on and started working on other projects. And as I’ve learned about self-publishing models that don’t require huge chunks of cash to order a minimum number of books that may sit and mold in one’s basement for years, but that instead people can order via Amazon and that will print on demand, I’ve started to warm up more to the idea. Finally, just recently, I’ve started to feel those first tingles of acceptance and excitement that say, Yes, let’s do this. Let’s go for it, take a plunge, join the do-it-yourself bandwagon and let go of any lingering stigma I might have about self-publishing.

As I’ve decided to do this (I’m like 90% there), I’ve had some major breakthroughs in how I see the manuscript. In short, I’ve been able to let go of my preoccupations with what is “most marketable,” and realize that I only WANT to publish my very best. This realization has thus allowed me to cut back the manuscript even more— in fact, to cut out almost everything that I worked so hard at adding in over the last several years. And in turn, to also call it for what it is: a collection of essays. A collection that, with the exception of a couple pieces, already existed in its entirety years ago.

Oh, the irony! You would think that I’d be incredibly upset at having WASTED years of my life on writing stuff that I inevitably turned around and cut, and yet, mostly, I’m just relieved. Relieved to alight on this new clarity, relieved to cut stuff that would have made some part of me cringe if published, and relieved to start feeling connected internally to the manuscript again, to start seeing it anew and feeling movement again, like something’s finally happening.

I still think there is a narrative arc, but it is not a traditional arc—instead of taking you from point A to point B, the journey I present is more of a spiral, with the same themes and questions echoing throughout on different levels. Letting go of the need to keep it in strict chronological order helped me cut even more pieces, and in turn, certain allegiances to sub-themes (like my love relationship in China) have lessened whereas core themes feel clearer (like my search to feel at peace existing in an "in-between" place, and to find my voice, whether in English or Chinese).

I think I always knew (or feared) that I was trying to fit a circle into a square. The fact that I persisted in calling them ‘pieces’ and not ‘chapters’ should have been a huge clue that inside, I still didn’t feel it was a chapter book—and yet, I stubbornly persisted in this vein until I exhausted that avenue.

Do I regret the “wasted” years? No. How could I? It’s the way it had to unfold for me, I really believe this. No time, no experience, and no writing, is ever wasted. Sure, it is tempting to groan in retrospect at all the stabs I took at trying to get certain torturous pieces "right", but I guess I had to do it this way, I had to go through all that, my own personal laborious process. 

So here I am. A huge amount of work still lies before me before I will be able to get this book into your hands. But the beautiful thing is, I can see it now, step by step, the work that remains. There is no longer the existential question of whether or not the book will one day exist, and in what form. And nor is there the same foggy sense that I am writing myself into some murky rabbit's hole or coyote den or whatever trickster characters might be conjured in this particular lesson I have to learn. 

It's too early yet to articulate just exactly what this lesson is, but you can bet that when I figure it out, I will be writing about it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dear Heart Radical: A Free Write

Dear Heart Radical,

You were an idea before you were the title of my manuscript. Book. Collection of Memoirs. Essays. Memoir singular. What to call you?

Does it even matter? Not if I don’t care anymore about “marketability”. I think, truly, you are essays. Searching for the Heart Radical: A Collection of Essays. Or Linked Essays by Anne Liu Kellor.

And what about the old subtitle: “A Journey Between East and West.” Scrap that? 

This is all not important. What matters is to love you again. It’s been so long that all I’ve done is loathe you, fear you, dread you, avoid you. I want to love you again. I want to appreciate all the love and sweat and experience poured into your pages. I want to share you, because sharing you is, too, a part of the writing process. Birthing process.

What is the Heart Radical? It is inner fierceness, not necessarily visible to the eye. It is an inner compass that helps the thinking, doubting part of me make choices that are aligned with the deepest, wisest, most transparent part of me. It is instinct that is allowed to function freely when all mechanisms of self-preservation have failed.

And the Heart Radical is also me, finding my voice. It is contradiction and complexity, demanding to exist and not be easily simplified or packaged for digestion’s sake. The Heart Radical is me, striving for authenticity, striving to walk the path I’m meant to walk, striving to do what my heart calls out to do, even when certain choices may not seem practical.

Because I am a writer, the Heart Radical is also about writing, about me staying true to my need to write, but I do not write about this in the manuscript. In the book, the Heart Radical is mostly about wandering. About revisiting my past through stories and travels. About seeking my roots, both geographical and familial. About risking exposure to find love, or at very least, connection with others. About risking vulnerability, for the chance to be seen and known. About learning to be okay being alone, as well as alongside another.

The Heart Radical is also about articulation, subtleties, and layers of truths. It is about learning to feel comfortable in who I am and what I believe, and learning to be okay with all my shortcomings, weaknesses and mistakes.

The Heart Radical is all of these things, and so much more. I love it as a title, as something to search for, because the Heart Radical is never stagnant and unchanging. Each passing day, year, season of my life, the shade and tenor of the Heart Radical is slightly different. Yesterday’s burning need in my heart is different than today’s subtle yearning. Yesterday’s longing for a lineage that could encompass my spiritual beliefs, is today’s longing for time, simply time, to remember what all those pressing questions were about.

Before I had a child, I used to have so much time—to wander, to ponder, to long and cry and feel lonely. Now I have so little time, and I do not feel lonely; I simply want more time for myself to even remember all those private heights and depths, all that scaffolding, elaborate cathedrals erected around my heart.

These pages are filled with stories and images of other people and places—in China, in Tibet, in L.A. But they are mostly filled with ideas and visions of myself. The book, the journey, is primarily an interior one, even if you are most interested in the parts where I take you to a sky burial or through the streets of Chengdu. I am only partially joking when people ask me what the book is about, and I say, “Me.” That sounds kind of arrogant, so I try to avoid that answer, but still I resort to it in moments of uncomfortableness when I don’t feel like exposing myself. It is also a lie if I say that the book is about “my time in China,” which makes it sound like a travelogue, and does not account for the pieces that are rooted in the States. It's about going back and forth, being in between. And if I say, it is about “exploring my cultural identity, spirituality, and relationships,” well that too is vague and non-revealing.

Anyway, that is all for now, I have to go finish my chores before I pick up my child from next door.

This free-write is just a beginning. A way for me to remember, to trick or cajole myself into falling again for my old lover, for these old stories, essays, occasional misplaced prose poem-- whatever they are, this collection of mine.

And why? Because it’s now or never time. I’m feeling this. It’s put it out there, find closure to this cycle, this part of this journey that is tied to this particular cycle of words, and move on. Because sharing the words is a part of the process for me. For even though they were originally written for me, they are ultimately not for me. To me, now, they are worthless in this form. They fester, they evoke a certain loathing. I need to let them go, set them free, release. Holding on to them any longer feels like a form of selfishness, selfishness born of fear. (What if no one likes them? No one buys them? What if I can’t stand to even read them aloud they feel so old? What if they don’t do justice to what my writing and thought process is like now?) Fears. I hold these pages to high standards. Perhaps you will too. Perhaps you will love them (love me!), perhaps you will judge them (judge me!). Do you see how it’s all tied up in my ego and mind?

That’s why to publish them—and self-publish, because I can’t wait any longer-- is the final act in this particular Search for the Heart Radical. That’s why I must. Okay, so I’ve convinced myself. Now, I just need to do it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Listening to Laura Veirs, Officiating my Sister's Wedding, and the Eternal Longing to Create

I'm feeling super depleted right now. Drinking coffee at 3:00 p.m. and hoping this will revitalize me enough to write a blog post, even if I know that late day caffeine is dangerous unless I want to tempt insomnia at night, but oh well-- without it, I'm more or less useless right now when it comes to writing, and this is the first chance I've gotten to write in way too long. Well, technically, I could have written yesterday while I had a babysitter, only by the time I "cleared the mental palette" (by first doing the dishes, vacuuming, and then getting caught up on my email and other online business), I realized I was mentally wiped as it was, even without all those pesky to-dos to get caught up with.

So I've decided that today I'm just going to write one of those rambling, disjointed blog posts that don't have any particular focus (or at least not at the onset), because I simply need to sit down and focus and write SOMETHING, not to mention to break this stretch of blogging silence-- to "clear the blogging palette" one might say, so that next time I can move on and write about other topics that actually feel like topics to me.

Anyway, I'm coming out of a month long stretch that has been more or less focused on my sister's wedding. It was last weekend, and I officiated, and so a lot of my limited free time of late has been devoted to working on the ceremony, as well as shopping for a dress, going to a bachelorette weekend in Portland, making a present for her (still not finished), packing, unpacking, traveling to Whidbey, rehearsing, and practicing for the ceremony. I'm not complaining, because it's been a great, fulfilling month, not to mention an awesome experience to get to marry my sister, but now I'm glad it's all over and I can slowly start to claim back my few weekly breaks for my own writing.

Prior to the wedding takeover, I was finally starting to feel like I was actually gaining back some time to do more than a bi-monthly blog post. I actually got my old manuscript out and started going through it again, willing myself to re-envision it's structure anew, and thinking hard about taking the first steps to self-publish. I felt some "Let's do it!" momentum building... but now I'm back to feeling depleted, and feeling like I need to just put something on this blog as a place to begin. Point of departure. Baseline. Check in.

So excuse me if it sounds like I have nothing to say. In fact, I have a shitload to say, I'm quite sure of this, only I haven't had the time to sit still long enough for the murk to clear and the themes and questions to emerge.

Right now, I'm listening to Laura Veirs, my favorite artist of late, especially when I'm in a dark, churning kind of mood. She is the artist that I have turned to each time I have actually had a chance to be home alone and blast music, drink, and dance-- and she is also an artist I have on in the background right now while I sit quietly and write. Her lyrics are poetic, resonant, and her voice has that necessary edge of longing and heartache and fierceness and gentleness that gives her music a power that speaks to me. She's like the female equivalent of Damien Jurado for me, another Northwest singer-songwriter whom I love.

Matthew and I actually got to see Laura Veirs at the Tractor a few weeks ago, and it was awesome. Not only because we were actually going on a date, at night, at a bar where I got to hear live music, loud, while drinking beer - which never happens- but because it was Laura Veirs, whose music has become a recent soundtrack to my life. One of her songs, Make Something Good off of July Flame, was also literally part of the soundtrack to a slide show that we made for Cedar's first birthday-- for the section that showed my long labor and his birth. I cried when she played that song at the show. And after the show, I felt compelled to go up and tell her what her music meant to me, as well as buy something to support her, and I am not somebody who normally goes up to singers after shows. But as an artist myself, I know it's so valuable and precious when someone really connects with your work, and when they take the time to tell you so, so I wanted to do it. Writing, hell- any art form-- can be such a sacred, solitary, lonely process, that it can feel so redeeming to hear others' praise. It keeps me going. It lifts me up. It reminds me why I do it. For myself, and for the joy in connecting to others.

That's how I felt this weekend after the wedding ceremony. So many people came up to me afterward and told me how they'd cried, or how they looked around and saw lots of guys crying, or how they'd never been to a ceremony that was so articulate, so personal, so heartfelt... and let me tell you, it felt damn good to hear this. Have you officiated before? No. Are you going to do more weddings? Well, maybe... if someone asks me, but it would not be the same to do it for someone I didn't know. And yet, I'm not opposed to the idea. After all, officiating a wedding is kind of right up my alley in that it involves: writing, public speaking, and ritual-- all of which, I am practiced at and enjoy.

I haven't always enjoyed public speaking, in fact, like many people, it used to scare the shit out of me. But now that I've had plenty of practice giving readings, not to mention some actual training with the Jack Straw Writers Program, it mostly just excites me. Sure, my hands still shake and I still get nervous, but I can override that nervousness now when I know I'm prepared. When I've practiced many times, and marked up my page with places to pause, words to enunciate, and reminders to breathe. And when I believe in what I'm reading-- when I trust that it's good, or good enough.

I wasn't really nervous at my sister's wedding, for the above reasons, but also because, contrary to my own personal literary readings where I'm showcasing my work and there's a lot of fragile ego involved, at my sister's wedding it wasn't about me and my writing-- it was about her and her fiance. So it made it that much easier to walk up in front of the 150 guests and smile and welcome the moment and all of them with my full presence and heart. I thought I might get nervous because I've never presented before that many, but the audience didn't feel that different than what I am used to. And on top of that, I had a new dress and haircut (bangs) to carry me. These things can be important.

Anyway, it was a great experience, and I rode the high of everyone's praise for the rest of the day and beyond. My mother, in particular, was especially exuberant in her praise-- and any child will tell you that we are always still eager to hear our parent's praise, no matter how old we are.

It'd also been so long since I'd written something, gone through an intense and rapid editing process (with the input of my sister and her new husband, so three editors in essence, which made the process more challenging, but also that much more satisfying when it finally clicked together and pleased us all), and then I had the chance to perform it-- bim, bam, boom! All in a month's time. So even though this wasn't my own personal writing project, going through this process gave me the same kind of satisfaction that working on something of my own does. And since the main theme of this blog (besides motherhood) seems to be pining for more time to work on my creative projects, I don't have to say more about how much this means to me.

That said, here I am, finally sitting at my desk again, with no pressing errands or deadlines or chores, other than my own pressing need to write. To see closure to certain projects. Or simply to remember again what those projects even were.

So here's to new beginnings. Here's to my beautiful sister and her lovely new husband, here's to a new beginning to this, thus far, cool Seattle summer (in other words, a prayer that the sun will keep shining for another month or two and it will actually get above 80 before the rains come back), and here's to me having some time in the near future to sit down again with my old manuscript.

I don't want to start speaking about fall yet (no, no, not yet!), but fall has always been one of the most fertile and exciting periods for me. It's when school always used to start, when the trees start getting beautiful, the vegetables abundant, and the stirring of a darker, more piercing longing starts to come into focus-- the hunger to dig into my depths, pull stuff out, and get things done.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why Self-Publish? An Interview with Noriko Nakada

Author, Noriko Nakada, reading from her memoir, Through Eyes Like Mine

Lately I have had a bit of time to start thinking about my collection of memoirs again, Searching for the Heart Radical: A Journey Between East and West. Namely I have been thinking about whether I should self-publish. I have worked on this manuscript for more years than I care to go into right now. I've sent it to agents, sent it to small presses, edited, rewritten and restructured it a thousand times, and although I've gotten good responses that have kept me hopeful and thus encouraged me to keep going in my quest to publish with a reputable press, I have not yet "won the jackpot."

It is hard, incredibly hard, to score a book deal these days. Especially if you are not famous, you are not particularly well-connected, and if the book you have written does not have bestseller/movie deal written all over it, and is instead, more of a subtle, quiet, or literary book.

There is unfortunately such a stigma surrounding self-publishing and so-called "vanity presses"; it is true that a whole lot of crap gets published that way-- as do plenty of gems. And it is also true that well-known presses also publish both crap and gems. Any way about it, authors these days have to do their own marketing and promotion (unless you are someone like John Grisham). So what it comes down to are various pros and cons about other people's perceptions, whether I still am hoping to teach in a university someday and thus need the  prestige of a reputable press, what I'm willing to put forward in terms of my own time and money, and ultimately, the question, why do I most want to publish my book?

Increasingly, as the years drag on and as I move on to new writing projects, I care less about garnering the prestige of a known press, and I simply want to get my book out there. I've worked so incredibly hard on it, I know there are damn good stories and sentences in there, and I ultimately still want to share this baby of mine with the world.

During this recent bout of deliberations, I decided to interview my friend and fellow Antioch MFA alum, Noriko Nakada, about her recent experience self-publishing her childhood memoir, Through Eyes Like Mine (TELM).

I've been following Noriko as she promotes her book on Facebook, and I have admired the way she continues to put herself out there, posting excerpts and reviews, giving readings, and generally not letting people forget about her book after it's initial debut. I can only imagine how hard it must be (despite how easy she makes it look) to try and sell your book, your baby that you've nurtured privately for so long, like some commodity. It's one thing to publish it; another thing entirely to keep encouraging people to buy it. It seems it must take enormous confidence, faith, and persistence. And so, I look to my friends and peers for inspiration and advice.

Through Eyes Like Mine is told through the eyes of Nori, a young half-Japanese and half-Caucasian girl growing up in the small (white) town of Bend, Oregon during the seventies and eighties. The book is narrated in first person, present tense, and Noriko does an incredible job of conjuring the voice of her younger self. Each chapter reads like an evocative vignette, highlighting the way a child absorbs the textured layers of emotion and nuance within her own family's tensions, silences and love. Young Nori's awareness of how her family is culturally different than the others around her is also a big part of this narrative, as are her observations of her mother's religious faith, sibling rivalries, and the adult world at large.

Here's what I asked Noriko:

How long did you work on 'Through Eyes Like Mine'? 

I started 'Through Eyes Like Mine' (TELM) during the first year of my MFA program at Antioch University. I finished the first draft as part of my final manuscript, so about two years.

When did you know you were working on a book versus just a series of pieces? 

Once I finished writing most of the vignettes, I had close to 50,000 words so I knew I was looking at a longer work. The trick was then cutting sections and writing new ones to help the reader move through the book. 

What was your writing and editing process like for this project? 

Writing each vignette started with the memory of an incident or a feeling. Then I tried to flush out scenes and determine what I wanted to say with each section. I worked on story order and flushed out themes with some new sections. Then I divided the book into three parts to help provide some needed structure. Once I decided to self-publish, the close editing began. I shared the work with several readers and even though I thought it was close to being done, it wasn't. Each time I read through the pages, I continued to make changes so I made myself read and re-read and re-read until I could read and not make a single edit.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I actually signed with an agent right after I finished my MFA. She loved TELM and did a great job shopping the work to big houses in New York. Unfortunately editors thought it was too quiet a book so I kind of forgot about it and kept writing and working on other projects. I figured TELM was done and it would have been except I used Amazon's CreateSpace to order a proof copy of a novel I wrote with my students (I teach eighth grade English) and it was so easy I thought, hey why not do this with TELM.

How did you decide which self-publishing press to use?

I looked at quite a few after using CreateSpace to make sure it was the right one for my project and found it was the easiest to use with the lowest out-of-pocket expense.

How does the publishing process work with CreateSpace?

With CreateSpace you create an account and then they walk you through the design. You can create your own imprint to publish from (then it won't read published by CreateSpace) and they assign you an ISBN or if you already have one you can use that. You choose a standard paperback size and then format your book for the look you want (fonts, page numbers, margins, etc.) and then you save a pdf to upload. They have some cover designs you can choose or if you are savvy with Photoshop you can design and upload your own. Once you upload your interior and cover docs you order a proof copy. They send it to you and you decide if you want to make any changes or make it available for purchase. I ordered three or four proof copies before I was happy with it. 

What about costs? How did you know how to price your book? 

The price that you pay per copy is pretty low and you take home a good percentage if people buy it from Amazon. CreateSpace shows your pricing and profits once you upload your files (it depends on the number of pages). I wanted to keep it affordable and easy to sell myself so it's listed at $10. I also highly recommend making it available as both a paper and e-book. I priced my kindle version at $5.99. 

How much were proof copies and your out-of-pocket expenses? 

Proof copies, again depend on the page count but including shipping, less than $10, maybe even $5 ish. I did order several proof copies to try to get reviews, send to Antioch mentors and other readers. Those proof copies are your only out of pocket if you don't need any of their publishing services. It's a point of sale production so you don't pay anything else up front.
How much do you end up pocketing for each book you sell?

For profit, if I order books myself, they cost $2.81 plus shipping. So all of the copies I sell myself or that my family sells for me, I make about $7.00. If people order from Amazon I make about $3.20 per copy. I definitely went on the low side because profits were and are less important than getting the book out and into people's hands. 

What do you think are the benefits to self-publishing today? 

It's really affordable if you have some basic computer skills, which is great. But what is incredibly empowering as a self-published writer, is that you can get your book in your hands and into the hands of readers. You also get to control the editing process (which can also be a drawback) and make the book look exactly the way you want. You can also make it available as an e-book really easily and sell it for even less.

What about the drawbacks? 

It's a lot of work. It takes hours and hours to write the book but editing it to be copy ready is really a different level of detail. Designing the look of the book takes time and visual arts decisions can be painstaking. I got to know that book so intimately I kind of started to hate it. And then, after all of that work, some people won't buy it just because it is self-published. There is still a stigma and that is a definite drawback. I just try to remember that I want people to be able to read my book and self-publishing has allowed that to happen.  

What have you done to promote your book? 

Social media networking is where I started. I have a blog so I wrote a post to let people know about my decision to self-publish. Most of my readers are also Facebook friends so I wrote updates of the process every so often whether it was frustration with comma usage or excitement when the cover finally looked the way I wanted it too. Once the book came out, I let people know where they could buy the book. I blogged about it, tweeted about it and Facebooked about it. I asked people to spread the word (or pimp my memoir). This was actually pretty uncomfortable for me. I hadn't asked people to buy anything since I was a Girl Scout, but I figured even if I had gone with a traditional house, I would have had to do the same kind of work. Once the book was released, I set up some readings in my target areas (mostly in Oregon) and I published excerpts of the book on the blog to keep some momentum going. I also teach full-time, so I do most of my promotion during winter and summer break. My family and friends have been great at helping out and books don't sell on their own so everything helps.

Do you have any specific goals with regards to number of sales or the greater audience you want to reach? 

I started with a kind of arbitrary goal to sell 10,000 copies. I'd still like to get there but it's going to take a LOT more work. I think the Asian American and growing Hapa communities would love the book so I hope to do more promotion there.

How many copies have you sold so far?

I have sold about 450 copies in eight months.
What advice might you have for writers who are thinking about going a similar route?

Make sure it's what you want. If you are hesitant and still want to go with a traditional press, send queries to agents and test the waters. Also, know if you want to sell a few hundred copies for family and friends or thousands and be prepared to do the promotion. Let go of any stigma you might have about self-publishing and make sure your product is something you can feel really proud of. 

What has been the most satisfying part of this journey to seeing your book in print? 

It has been amazing to interact with readers about the book. Many are able to think back on their own childhoods and understand how my family's story is both unique and universal. Growing up, there were no books or characters like me. TELM illuminates the experience of growing up in a multicultural family and I now a book like that exists.

The hardest or most surprising part? 

The hardest part is motivating to promote. It's hard for me; totally unnatural.

What's next for you?  

I'm actually going to self-publish the next section of memoir. It's a middle school memoir called Overdue Apologies. I hope it will be done in November. I'm also working on a YA novel about a Japanese American family from Los Angeles during WWII called Rice Paper Superheroes.

Thank you, Noriko, for being so generous in sharing your experiences with self-publishing! If you want to read an excerpt or review of Noriko's book, or would like to check out CreateSpace, the links are listed below.

excerpts from TELM
reviews of TELM


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