Category Archives: books, movies, YA, writing

Can Harvesting Human Body Fat Solve the Oil Crisis?

That’s the premise of GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT, a dark, daring, and hilarious new novel by author/filmmaker Pamela Corkey.  Read my interview with her below.

You'll DEVOUR this book.

You’ll DEVOUR this book.

If I had to place your novel in a genre it would be really difficult, so can you tell me, in general, how are people categorizing it? Science fiction? Drama? Fantasy? Dark comedy?  Literary fiction, or satire with literary fiction underpinnings. It’s not quite “laugh-out-loud funny” enough to be categorized as humor, but it is a comedic satire, not a stark social satire the way you would think of Aldous Huxley or Chuck Paliniuk. It’s lighter than those works but darker than Irma Bombeck. By a mile.

Were any of those writers on your mind? Aldous Huxley, in particular?  No. Actually, I hadn’t read Brave New World when I started working on GDP. I read it while I was writing the book just coincidentally. Now, after reading it, Brave New World had a huge impact on me and my thinking in general, but there’s no connection to Gross Domestic Product for me.

Something that everybody who’s read the book probably wonders: harvesting human fat to solve the oil crisis — where did that completely outlandish premise come from?  I think it was just the natural trajectory of a train of thought. You hear about people adapting their car engines to be able to run on the fat from deep fryers — they go collecting that stuff from fast food chains — and I thought, well, what’s the difference between the fat of a peanut, the fat of a chicken, and the fat of a person? Once that thought struck me, I considered the fact that we also have this often-commented upon obesity issue in our country — so it all just unraveled from there.

I think that’s one of the brilliant things about the book — it takes these two conundrums that we face in our modern world and they dovetail.  Right. I discovered as I was writing the book that it was really all about, “What if we solve all our problems. Then what?” Stories are based on conflicts, but I’ve often been tempted to push past conflict and see what is there to say once they have been resolved. What about society when it’s done addressing its shortcomings? What is the meaning of life if we don’t have struggles? What would we do with ourselves? I don’t know if I answered that question in the book, but it was constantly at the back of my mind while I was writing. What would happen to the human animal if it didn’t have to struggle and strive or exert any effort? What then?

That would bring me to the three main characters: Frannie, Derek, and Treyshawn. Why these specific people?  Early on, when I was just sort of playing around with what would happen if we really could use human fat as a fuel, I wondered who would get rich and what problems it might solve. And one of the first things I imagined was that poor communities that have a much higher rate of obesity and who struggle the most, those would instantly make out like bandits. Poverty would be eradicated. American poverty is not generally made up of a lot of emaciated people the way it often is in other countries. It’s a lot of big people. So I came up with a character who would recognize the opportunity that existed in his own poor community and have the smarts to exploit it.

And that’s Treyshawn.  Yes, that’s Treyshawn. Because he is naturally skinny, he himself can’t participate in the process, but he can see how to exploit it. I didn’t want him to be a villain, even though he’s taking advantage of the situation — I wanted him to be resourceful and caring. I came up with this character who, at the start of the story, is already taking care of everybody. He was born with his eyes wide open and darting around, looking for trouble and trying to preserve himself and those he loves from danger. And I wanted somebody who was immune to the desire to slack off, who didn’t have any impulse to slack off. Treyshawn is just a whirring little engine of industriousness and resolve.

Right. He’s an admirable character. Of the three, his story is the one that gives us something we traditionally expect from stories in that he follows an arc where he overcomes challenges and hurdles and become stronger and wiser. You chose him explicitly to be the one to grow and change rather than then the other two.  Well, none of them really change dramatically. They all come to an understanding with their world and themselves. I guess you’re right though – Treyshawn’s circumstances certainly change a great deal.

And he also gains a lot of self-confidence that he doesn’t have at the beginning.  Yes. Absolutely. That’s absolutely true.

Can you talk about the other two central characters?  Of course. There’s Derek. Derek was actually the first character that coalesced. I wanted somebody who would be in the middle of the media-pop-cultural whirlwind of this initiative — the introduction to the American public of Project People Power, which is the name the government creates for the fat-to-fuel program. So it seemed fitting that he would start out as the fattest man in the world. In the book, Derek starts out completely bedridden, living in a trailer, and then he gets a very extreme and dramatic liposuction that sucks him down to the size of a normal person and he’s put in commercials to popularize the program. He’s not even remotely ready for it. I have a great tenderness for Derek and deep sympathy for his inept attempts at assuaging his pain and fear in this life.

Yeah, and what I would ask you then is, Derek and Franny — you put these poor guys through hell. They’re smart and funny people and they’re characters that a lot of your readers might identify with, even though they might have some problems that are extreme and pathetic. What would you say to someone who said, “Oh, I wish that Derek had more agency or some kind of way to get out of this horrible situation he’s been put in,” or maybe, “Why can’t Franny grow or be stronger-minded in the end?”  Because that isn’t who they are and it wasn’t what I wanted to explore. I tried to give those two characters a happy ending because I’m a sucker for that, but I didn’t want to be disloyal to them or completely manipulative and unrealistic about the psychological profiles I’d created. These three-dimensional characters came to life in my imagination — it’s just not what would happen to them. It would be completely out of character for them to grow in those ways. Franny does a lot of two steps forward, one step back, but in the end I try to reward her. I love her because she’s the idealist who can’t bear to live in this world.

And she struggles when everybody starts to give into this marketing campaign.  Yes, because it’s the antithesis of everything she holds dear, philosophically. Even though that philosophy is made up for a fantasy franchise. She’s trapped in a very mundane life, so she uses her imagination to try to create a simulation of a different world in pure denial of reality.

The place where Franny and Derek do get to have some fun is The Realm (their online game). It seems as if, when the story goes there, Franny and Derek get to escape from their lives, and we as readers can also have fun and fly a little bit, because it’s not so heavy like the rest of the chaos that surrounds them.  Which is exactly why fantasy worlds are so popular, why people are so drawn to games. A game is just a conflict with no real consequences. A simulated conflict with simulated danger and simulated triumph. It’s a lot more compelling than real-life triumphs like, “Oh, fantastic! I found a good parking spot,” or, “There are $212 extra dollars in my monthly paycheck so I’m going to be slightly less pinched.” The triumphs in our actual lives don’t often reach such heights as they do every single day in games like World of Warcraft or a video game like Grand Theft Auto. Most people want to live full lives and just don’t know how. Franny is a person who refuses not to live as full a life as she can, if only in her imagination. Most grown-ups give up on their imaginations. Look at the adults in our lives who are dorks who stay invested in childish dreams of adventure and we look at them with pity or mockery, but there’s something to be said for the life force of a person who refuses to give up on their make-believe world. It’s both sad and beautiful to me.

So have you or do you participate in online gaming?  I don’t. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t get into it enough to for the illusion to take hold. Writing is what I do instead.

There’s an aspect in your writing that I love, and that is the level of detail that creates a sense of these places and the characters that inhabit them and always makes me think, “She’s been there. She knows folks just like this.” Have you been to these places you describe? Do you know people like these.  Of course I do, yeah. In parts and pieces. I’m a big Star Trek fan and when I was younger I loved it enough to go to conventions, but I didn’t go to conventions like a normal dork. I remember one time I dressed up in an Original Trek sort of 60s mod alien outfit of my own invention and several people at the convention were like, “What episode is that from?”

You’d just made it up?  Yeah. It was inspired by those campy alien babes, but the conventioneers couldn’t wrap their heads around that — to them it was like I wasn’t doing it right…I do love alternate realities. I do love imaginary worlds.

So, back to the online gaming: do you think that the things you describe, like the cybersex stuff — does that actually happen?  Yes. That happens a lot. It’s not something that I have personal experience with but I do know of people who have. People have gotten divorced over virtual cheating, so having consensual text-based sex or jerking off to somebody else’s prompts — that’s real.

It’s just that combining it with the sci-fi/fantasy stuff seems really over the top, but I’m sure you’re right.It happens constantly. Thousands of people are doing it right now. As we speak, thousands of people doing it in the greater Houston area.

In this book, you’re pretty fearless about tackling topics that other people would consider unmentionable. Anything from farting to deeper social taboos we’ve been socialized to stay away from. Why is it that you decide to go there?  Because I’m a 12-year-old boy. I find those things funny. I think farting is funny. I also find that the most interesting thing is the stuff that nobody wants to talk about. That just seems so obvious to me. If I were in a situation, in a business meeting, say, and somebody had a booger hanging out, the first thing I would say to the person to my left, if I knew them well enough, would be to point out the booger. I find it endlessly interesting to poke at the invisible boundaries that society puts around us. Because they’re so flimsy! They’re so easy to breach. Another reason is I’m concerned that perhaps other people aren’t noticing these things and some of them are really important. Pretending they’re not there is keeping us apart. Because if you say that Bradley has a booger, so what? It humanizes him. If you tell Bradley he has a booger and he laughs and asks how long it’s been hanging there, then you become closer to each other as human beings. But if Bradley gets really uptight and gets upset, then you know that his sense of self-worth is very fragile and you know that you’ve humiliated him and then you’re not friends with Bradley anymore or maybe you treat him more gently.

Yeah, but when you’re writing a book, nobody’s going to get hurt.  Well… that’s not true, but it’s tru-ish. I think that I want to say to Bradley, “Hey, man, don’t be so upset about the booger thing. It was hilarious — there was something to pay attention to while we were going through all those dry, boring numbers.” I want Bradley to know that I see his booger and I like him anyway. How can we be really be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts? Or our humanity, our frailty, the little weaknesses that plague all of us from the moment we’re born.

I want to take the quote, “How can we be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts,” and crochet that onto something.  Be my guest. I do have a copyright on that, but I hereby grant you permission. You have to send me a picture of it though.

What’s next for Treyshawn and for the world? And what about you, personally? Are you planning to start a new novel?  What’s next for Treyshawn is I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I envision him coming back with an incredibly brilliant scheme to rescue the planet from itself. But I have no idea. See, that doesn’t need to be a book. There’s no story there. There’s just Treyshawn being awesome. What’s next for Treyshawn is greatness.

Do Franny and Derek have a baby? Yes.

And what’s next for you? I’m working on a web series right now, but I plan to write another book. I have three different story ideas that I am developing and have notes on and I can’t decide which one to devote the next several years to. I think it’ll be the one that seems like it would be the most fun world to spend all that time in.

Thank you for writing this delightful novel. You’re welcome. And thank you for your time and the thought you put into this.

Click Here to purchase GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT on Kindle for only $3.99.  

on the train

Author Pamela Corkey, jammin’ to some tunes.

Pamela Corkey is a film professor at Hofstra University, a director, and the author of numerous screenplays. Her debut novel, Gross Domestic Product, which was recently released on amazon.com and will soon be available in print as well, revolves around the premise that the United States has solved the oil crisis by harvesting human fat, and explores how this development affects the lives of her characters and the social fabric of the country. 

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Rekindling the Flame (at a Writers Conference)

I love writing and I’m grateful to make a living at it. But sometimes, when I’ve been hunched over my computer for 73 hours straight and I still haven’t quite broken the story that consumes every recess of my conscious and subconscious mind, and my right hand has attractively stiffened into its mouse-clicking position at all times, like the desperate final clutches of a melting witch—I tend to get a bit cranky about the whole business. So, how does the burnt-out writer get her mojo back?  She goes to a writers conference!

The view from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference.  October 25 – 27th.

The view from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. October 25 – 27th.

Like leafing through my wedding album after a marital spat, attending a writers conference reminds me why I fell in love with writing in the first place.  It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching a workshop, or taking one.  Just being among so many other people who share my passion for writing always renews my energy for my own work. Plus, where else are you able to speak so freely about the creative process without sounding like a total douchebag?

It’s all too easy to take the things we love for granted, if we’re not careful. Even a cool job, like writing a pilot for a TV network, can become mundane when you’re banging it out every day, word by painstaking word. Which is why, every now and then, it’s important to ship the kids off to grandmas, squeeze yourself into that expensive silk negligée, and slow dance to your old favorite song (even if you are only doing this metaphorically from the comfort of your conference hotel room).

There’s so much I’ve learned at writing conferences over the years and I’m thankful to have made many friends. But just as meaningful is the feeling these gatherings always rekindle in me—that even after all these years, I’m still just as excited about writing as the day I first fell in love with it.  Which begs the question:  why don’t I go to writers conferences more often?  Writing holds such an important place in my life it’s rather ironic that I often fret over taking time off from my writing (duh) to honor it.

Because the truth is: being a writer is more than just a job. Our work is sacred (this blog post notwithstanding), because in order to do it, we must be willing to give up pieces of ourselves. If you’ve never been to a writers conference, this is the secret we writers whisper in each other’s ears once we’re squirrelled away inside its secure confines, reveling just as much in our shared suffering as we do in our joy. But if you are not at a writers conference while reading this, a belated warning: this is the douchebaggy part.

I will be teaching two workshops at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference located in beautiful Puget Sound, October 25 – 27th. For more information, CLICK HERE.

 

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WIN book goodies signed by 50+ of today’s hottest YA/MG authors!

Author & storyteller extraordinaire Laurisa White is hosting the SUPER SWAG SUNDAY giveaway! Every day between now and June 30th, one winner will be chosen to receive a SUPER SWAG PACK filled with all sorts of book goodies signed by 50+ of today’s hottest YA/MG authors! On the last day, one very lucky winner will receive the MEGA SWAG PACK, a collection of first edition books signed by the authors and some other very cool stuff.

Click here to enter:  http://laurisareyes.blogspot.com/2013/06/super-swag-sunday-day-2.html

superswag2b

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REUNITED Book Club Giveaway (with snacks!)

In celebration of REUNITED’s paperback release, I’m giving away 10 copies to one lucky book club. The winners will also receive a copy of REUNITED’s discussion questions, as well as an assortment of road-trip themed snacks. To enter, all you need to do is share this giveaway on Facebook, your blog, or Twitter, then post a comment about what you did in the comments section below. You’ll get one entry for each placed you shared. Plus, to earn 2 bonus entries, tell me a bit about your book club.

Book Clubs--all this could be yours...

Book Clubs–all this could be yours…

REUNITED is perfect for YA book groups and regular book groups, Recommended for readers age 12 and up.

Teachers and librarians are also welcome to enter. Contest ends Thursday, June 27th, at 8am, EST. Open to U.S. residents only, age 12 and up. Good luck!

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I am a New Adult (Again)

When I was 18 years old, I could not wait to leave my boring, suburban hometown and go to college in the city of Boston. And even though Boston was only a 40-minute drive away, I was convinced that moving to the city had the power to magically transform me—80’s movie montage-style—from a chubby, overachieving nerd, into the glamorous, urbane sophisticate I was no doubt destined to become.

I began my metamorphosis by drowning my former Student of the Month persona in gallons of cheap vodka, while my inner good-girl was smothered in a wardrobe of all black.

The strange thing was, I had this one professor who somehow managed to see through my shroud of pretension and catch a glimpse of the real me.  Over the next four years, she frequently sought me out, encouraging me to get more involved with the university and become a student leader. I spent four years dodging her requests.

And yet, I found myself oddly tempted by the idea of revisiting my inner go-getter. Because somewhere hidden deep inside of me—though, evidently, not quite as deep or hidden as I thought—was a motivated, hard-working kid who didn’t really want to waste her entire life stumbling home from nightclubs at 3:00am. I was enthralled with the idea of a life of reckless hedonism, yet I could no longer ignore the ambition roiling inside of me, the desire to live out my life-long dreams, or at the very least, to get sh*t done.

Shortly after graduation, I began to reconcile these two disparate halves of myself, retaining just enough of my free-spirited proclivities to make life enjoyable, while making sure to carve out enough time to honor my inner over-achiever. I was only 23 when I started to shoot my debut feature film and my former professor was the first one to pull out her checkbook.

HWG1stFILM

I spent the rest of my 20’s pining for and simultaneously reenacting my college days. It was the 90’s, and my generation pioneered the concept of prolonged adolescence, formerly known as “slacking,” which, in turn, spawned the rise of the pervasive Man Child[1] phenomenon of today. Sure, I worked for a living and (mostly) paid my own bills. But none of my friends actually had it quote-unquote together, and as we drank our nights away at the local pool hall, we laughed over the  fact that anyone in our youthful, fun-loving age bracket actually gave a crap about bourgeois, old-people things like 401Ks, biological clocks, and marriage.

Then thirty came, hitting us like the slap of a screen door in the three-decker Allston apartment we were too old to still be renting. We certainly weren’t kids anymore. We were freaking thirty.  So where were our amazing careers? Where were the new cars and engagement rings? In a phrase: What the hell was wrong with us?

For me, turning 30 was the beginning of my adulthood, though true adulthood didn’t come until I became a parent, at age 34. Looking back, I don’t regret my extended stay in Never-Neverland, and judging from my resume (two features under my belt by age 28 and various TV-producing jobs) I can’t exactly call myself a slacker. But I do wonder what I might have achieved if I’d followed the path suggested to me by my old professor and given in to my ambitious side way back when I was still in college. I also wonder what I would have lost by giving up those extra ten years of my youth.

I spent my twenties fighting adulthood with everything I had and my thirties learning to accept it. At 43, I fully embrace my adult self, though there really isn’t another choice. Which is why I believe it’s entirely possible that New Adulthood is more than just some marketing scam cooked up by YA publishers.  I am a New Adult now, for the fourth or fifth time over. Maybe all of us always are.


[1] For more info. on the Man-Child, watch an early Judd Apatow film.

Hilary Weisman Graham is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and the author of the YA novel Reunited (Simon & Schuster), now available in paperback. http://www.amazon.com/Reunited-Hilary-Weisman-Graham/dp/144243984X/ref%3dsr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321630047&sr=8-1

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Take the Beach Bag Quiz & enter to WIN a FREE copy of REUNITED

Can someone please make a cocktail called "Reading on the Beach"?

Can someone please invent a drink called “Reading on the Beach”?

Q: Which of These Items Belong in your Beach Bag?

A) A tub of Crisco (for sun-tanning)

B) An obnoxiously large boom-box that only plays AM radio.

C) A thermos of piping hot Ovaltine!

D) A paperback copy of REUNITED.

(CORRECT ANSWER: D.  REUNITED, now available in paperback! Enter to WIN a FREE COPY here.  Or, buy your own.)

1_final_reunitedsmallmedium.jpg

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We Are All The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

Watch me, now.

Watch me, now.

Yesterday, I started the 7-minute workout, the latest fitness craze made popular by an article in the NY Times. According to the article, “exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10.” So, when I told my husband I’d done it, he asked if I’d remembered to work at 80% of my maximum effort. To which I responded: “Doesn’t everyone?”

My argument being that most people rarely function at 100% of their capacity unless they’re under special circumstances, like competing in the Olympics or being chased by killer bees.

It’s like when you go out for a run and finally settle into a rhythm, then a car drives by, or another jogger comes along and you speed up your pace. Turns out, you did have more to give, only you didn’t want to use it unless you absolutely had to, which, thanks to a hearty dose of shame, you did, as soon as that cute guy in the short-shorts whizzed by you.

I was thinking about the idea of pushing ourselves to the max and how it relates to being a screenwriter/novelist. There’s a lot you can say about showbiz folks, but the one thing you can’t accuse them of is not giving it their all. Be it the grueling dance rehearsals and tour schedule of a highly paid pop music diva or the hours a writer like me spends toiling away in solitude—the competitive nature of this business require that when we perform, we do it at no less than 100%.

I guess, in a way, being in showbiz is it’s own kind of interval training—sprint and rest, sprint and rest.  And we need those calm periods in between film shoots and manuscripts in order to slow down and reconnect with ourselves, to get more than five hours of sleep a night, and refill our creative wells. But the second we’re called to action, we’re off and running again. Because no one ever gave that break-out movie performance or landed a life-changing script deal by giving anything less than 100%.  

At least that’s what we tell ourselves each time our screenplays fail to sell, or when we don’t get that directing job or land that plum role. We rally, regroup, then push ourselves to do better next time. We double down. Then, we double down again.

Yet, in the rest of our lives, I think most of us operate at around 80%, at best.  Just last night I was talking about this with another mom (as we watched about 20% of our sons’ baseball game) bemoaning the fact that no matter what we do, we’ll never be better than be B+ parents.  I know this because during the first three years of my son’s life, I tried parenting 100%—hauling my floppy-necked infant to mommy-baby drum circles, my valuable hours spent filling ice cube trays with homemade organic baby food.  Turns out, 100% mommying is about 20% too much mommying for me.  At least it is if I want to leave space for any of the other important things in my life, like my writing, my husband, and my friends.

In general, I believe there’s nothing wrong with living life at 80%. It’s steady. It’s not totally exhausting. If life is a marathon, 80% is what we need if we want to cross the finish line. 

But what I’ve had to come to terms with over the years is that creative types like me don’t like to run at a steady pace.  We prefer pushing ourselves to our limits, even if we have to put ourselves in extraordinary circumstances and under extraordinary pressure in order to find out exactly what those limits are. Which is why we are all the hardest-working men in show business. (No offense to James Brown.) And even though it can feel utterly depleting at times, dancing as fast as we can without any guarantee  we’ll win the dance contest, I believe there’s great value in challenging ourselves. Like mothers who suddenly find themselves able to lift a Volkswagen off their child, unless we’re pushed to our limits, we may never find out how strong we truly are. 

 

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Happy Birthday to ESCAPE THEORY, TRINKETS, and Me!

There are few moments more gratifying for an author than the day his or her book gets released.  So, I would like to extend a hearty congrats to my uber-talented writer friends Kirsten Smith (Trinkets) and Margaux Froley (Escape Theory) who saw their book babies into the world today.  YA fans,  I urge you to go buy both of these great book right now.  Seriously.  What are you waiting for?  And since March 12th also happens to be my birthday, I guess that makes us triplets.  If a 40-something human could be biologically related to hardcover books.

BOTH of these great books made Publisher Weekly’s Best New Books of the Week!  Synopsis (lifted from Goodreads) are below.

TRINKETS by Kirsten Smith

Sixteen-year-old Moe’s Shoplifters Anonymous meetings are usually punctuated by the snores of an old man and the whining of the world’s unhappiest housewife. Until the day that Tabitha Foster and Elodie Shaw walk in. Tabitha has just about everything she wants: money, friends, popularity, a hot boyfriend who worships her…and clearly a yen for stealing. So does Elodie, who, despite her goodie-two-shoes attitude pretty much has “klepto” written across her forehead in indelible marker. But both of them are nothing compared to Moe, a bad girl with an even worse reputation.

Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe: a beauty queen, a wallflower, and a burnout-a more unlikely trio high school has rarely seen. And yet, when Tabitha challenges them to a steal-off, so begins a strange alliance linked by the thrill of stealing and the reasons that spawn it.

ESCAPE THEORY by Margaux Froley

Sixteen-year-old Devon Mackintosh has always felt like an outsider at Keaton, the prestigious California boarding school perched above the Pacific. As long as she’s not fitting in, Devon figures she might as well pad her application to Stanford’s psych program. So junior year, she decides to become a peer counselor, a de facto therapist for students in crisis. At first, it seems like it will be an easy fly-on-the-wall gig, but her expectations are turned upside down when Jason Hutchins (a.k.a. “Hutch”), one of the Keaton’s most popular students, commits suicide.

Devon dives into her new role providing support for Hutch’s friends, but she’s haunted by her own attachment to him. The two shared an extraordinary night during their first week freshman year; it was the only time at Keaton when she felt like someone else really understood her.  As the secrets and confessions pile up in her sessions, Devon comes to a startling conclusion: Hutch couldn’t have taken his own life. Bound by her oath of confidentialityand tortured by her unrequited love—Devon embarks on a solitary mission to get to the bottom of Hutch’s death, and the stakes are higher than she ever could have imagined.

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The Art of Asking (Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk)

AFP-TED-300x200

Amanda Palmer says don’t make people pay for music. let them ask. Could the same wisdom apply to the world of books, film, & TV?  Hmmm…

 

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Pimp My Read: A Comprehensive Guide to Book Marketing (in Four Easy Steps)

You have a book coming out.  Yay for you!  After you’ve taken yourself out for a celebratory dinner—using up roughly one tenth of your advance—it’s time to start thinking about your marketing plan.  “But I’m the author,” you whine. “Won’t my fancy Manhattan publisher handle all that?”  Absolutely!  If you’ve written 50 Shades of Gray.  But unless you’ve written a “big book” (and you’ll be able to tell if your advance was upwards of six-figures) chances are, your publisher won’t even shell out the forty-eight bucks it cost you to get some bookmarks printed up.

But don’t fret, because I’m about to tell you how to spearhead an amazing book marketing campaign all by yourself.

The Pea Pod photo booth really got some mileage.

The Pea Pod photo booth really got some mileage.

Step #1:  Establish an On-line Presence

Before you do anything else, it’s important you start blogging as soon as possible.  As in click away from this essay right this second and make it happen.  Presuming, of course, you’ve already set up your website, Pinterest account, and obligatory Facebook author page.  Which you obviously have.

For the next two years, when you’re not blogging, posting, or Pinning, you will spend the bulk of your time Tweeting, which is similar to writing, only shorter and less important.  Sometimes you’ll sneak a witty bon-mot onto Twitter and people will “favorite” it, and for the next 2.4 seconds of its shelf life, you’ll feel like a 21st century Dorothy Parker.  But most of the time, you will shill promotional information for your author friends in the form of re-Tweets, making your Twitter feed less of a pithy commentary on the human condition and more of a nonstop infomercial for books that ultimately will compete with your own.  Still, you work those re-Tweets like Ron Popeil works a rotisserie chicken, because when the time comes for you to promote your own stuff—and it will—you want the same re-Tweeting done for you. Kind of like the unspoken exchange for oral sex, only with less of a payoff.

It's important to work those re-Tweets like Ron Popeil works a rotisserie chicken.

It’s important to work those re-Tweets like Ron Popeil works a rotisserie chicken.

Also, did you know there are social networking just for book nerds that exist beyond the world of Facebook and Twitter?  Goodreads, Librarything, and Shelfari are three of the biggies, so, you’ll probably want to get yourself onto those, too.  But unlike the rules you give your kids on internet safety, here, your job is to do just the opposite.  Friend everyone you can, quickly and indiscriminately, the way you once did out at bars back in college.  It’s unlikely any of these book-loving strangers will harm you, or spam you, though you may be tricked into subscribing to their extremely prolific blog about steampunk.

Regardless, you nurture these online friendships with the kind of selfless devotion you imagine Gail gives to Oprah. This is called Networking, and it’s important you partake in it, because you never know if that blogger you followed on Twitter might someday help you get into the Kalamazoo Festival of Literature and Cheese Fries.  Sure, at the time, it may feel like you’re spending more hours of your day online, talking to strangers than, say, communicating with your own spouse.  But your spouse understands.  More than anyone else in the world, he is painfully aware that these next few months are all about you because—have you heard?—You Have a Book Coming Out!  And, in all likelihood, you’ll have another wedding anniversary next year.

But while you’re still sitting there at the computer, it might be a good time to think about vlogging. I know vlogging sounds scary, but really, it’s just like blogging, only people can see you, so you have to take a shower first.  Because if there’s one thing we authors love more than hunkering down for the day to write in blissful solitude, it’s doing it with lipstick on.

But don’t stress out too much about your new weekly vlog.  It’s easy enough to get the hang of it once you’ve created your own YouTube channel.  And believe me, you need your own YouTube channel, because where else are you going to host the fabulous book trailer you wrote, directed, and paid for all by yourself?

Step #2:  If You Give Crap Away, They Will Come

Now that your online presence is up and running, the fun doesn’t stop there.  As any experienced blogger will tell you, the easiest way to turn a blahg into a 5,000-visitor-a-day on-line party is by hosting contests and giveaways.  There, your fans—who, at this point, are still largely theoretical—can enter to win ARCs and other book-related swag.  What swag, you ask?  Why, I’m talking about the bookmarks, magnets, t-shirts, bracelets, and temporary tattoos you’ve designed and created at your own expense.

Of course, purchasing swag can get costly, but the good news is that blogging is free!  So it’s important to say yes to every request you get to write “guest blogs” and also to post on your own blog frequently.  Squeezing in extra work hours to blog may seem hard at first, kind of like when you went from your freewheeling, childless lifestyle to having kids.  You spend the first few months walking around like an angry zombie because you’re not getting nearly enough sleep.  But before long, it’s become second nature, and you literally can not believe how much time you wasted before you were in the habit of writing twelve hours a day!  (Though you have a sneaking suspicion there was a couch involved, and a TV with Project Runway on it.)

But you are An Author, goddammit, and some book blogger who you know only by the name @TeamEdward wants you to tell all their followers what your favorite junk food is.  So, at the end of the day, what’s an extra 500-1,000 words among (anonymous online) friends?

Naturally, you set up a month-long “blog tour” scheduled around your book’s release.

Step #3:  Getting Maximum Exposure Off-Line (i.e., In Real Life)

Your publisher loves your book trailer and is thrilled with your can-do attitude!  Your editor tells you you’re such an expert on book marketing you could teach a class on it.  So, you do—pimping yourself out for workshops at whatever writing conferences and book festivals will have you.  Once there, you do your best to distinguish your charming self from your fellow panelists without seeming like too much of an attention whore.  Of course, you are an attention whore, like all vloggers, but you justify your showboating because A) it might sell four extra copies of your book and B) you are still less of a douche-bag than that chick with the bangs who keeps leaping up to quote Shakespeare.

At least so far. Your book doesn’t hit the shelves for another month.

But the best part about marketing your book in the real world is that it exists simultaneously with the world on-line.  This means the opportunities for multi-tasking are endless, allowing you to dazzle your peers by, say, hosting a virtual blog hop at the exact same time you drive to New York to spend the week at BEA!

By now, nothing can stop you.  You are a force of nature.  A one-woman marketing machine.  If only there were a way to take your mad skills a step further.  To turn your book’s release into a bigger story with national media interest.  So, you talk to a book marketing consultant and together you shape a quirky yet brilliant plan.  The only problem is, pulling this off will be awfully expensive, so you spend three hours crafting the perfect email to your publisher asking them to split the cost. Amazingly, they say yes!  That’s how much they believe in you.  After all this time, they’re finally giving you the recognition you truly deserve.  It may not be an in-house champagne party, like the one they threw for John Corey Whaley, but on the plus side, the head of marketing now knows your name.

With your awesome marketing consultant and your publisher behind you, your promotional efforts are starting to build a buzz, eventually landing you a story in Publisher’s Weekly. You try to manage your expectations, but as any first-time author knows, this clearly means the New York Times bestseller list can’t be far behind.

Cut to:  two weeks later, where, sadly, you realize the Publisher’s Weekly article wasn’t the star-maker you thought it would be.  So you regroup and try a new tactic, like writing personal letters to every indie bookstore within a hundred miles of your hometown, each one personalized with the mention of your local connection to their store—your Uncle Siegfried shoplifts there!—while simultaneously encouraging them to purchase multiple copies of your book, hand-sell the shit out of it, and have you in for a reading and book-signing, too.

Since you’re already in the letter-writing groove, why not send some to schools asking if they want an author visit?  Oh, and while you’re at it, you may as well whip out a few press releases to all of your local media outlets.

Still, this might not be enough.  So you place an ad on Shelf Awareness.  For the same amount of money, you could have gone to Canyon Ranch for the weekend, but this is your first book and you want it to do well, so screw tranquility and hot stone massages.

Step #4:  Making the Most of Release Day and Beyond

Finally, it’s release day—the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the mind-altering orgasm to the past 30 months of foreplay.  But for some niggling reason, it doesn’t feel quite like release, even though the word release makes up half the phrase.  Sure, it’s exciting to see your book in stores.  And you’re tickled by the good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, not to mention the fan-mail.  Plus, you are grateful, so very grateful, that all your hard work has finally paid off and you have now joined the esteemed ranks of published authors.  But… part of you hoped that your book coming out would be the grand finale, and as it turned out, it was only the beginning.

Your publisher didn’t mention it in the “Author Guide” they gave you, but now that you’re a published you’ve learned the big secret.  Book publishing’s a total a cock tease.  You don’t even own a cock, but you know this now, more than you’ve ever known anything.

Not that you have the time to contemplate genitalia now that your book’s out in stores.  Even if you did, you’re married to a new husband now.  His name is Amazon Author Central, and he has you so far under his thumb you feel like a cult leader’s fourth wife, only with a better haircut.  Sure, you’ve been told that the Nielsen BookScan numbers represent roughly 75% of your total sales, but you’re pretty sure yours might reflect even less, because surely, after all the time and money you’ve spent pimping your book, it must be selling better than this.

In your saner moments, you tell yourself to withhold judgment, to wait until you get your royalty statement and see the actual figures.  But most of the time, you live or die by the numbers on Amazon Author Central, which you now check on an hourly basis, ignoring your author friends gentle reminders that it’s way too early to know how your book’s really doing since your it’s only been out a week. Your therapist chimes in, too, telling you that your book’s “success” or “failure” is only a story you’ve made up in your head.  The problem is:  you’re really good at making up stories.  That’s why you became an author in the first place!  Still, you need to get off of this crazy train or you’ll snap, and last time you checked, The Betty Ford Clinic didn’t have an Amazon Author Central wing.

So you decide to stop, cold turkey.  No more Amazon Author Central ever again.  Just after you check the numbers one more time.

Of course, there’s nothing like a good launch party to lift your spirits. And your local indie bookstore that hosts it sells more copies of your book in one day than any other book they’ve ever sold.  Except for Harry Potter.  And The Hunger Games.  And 50 Shades of Gray. But that doesn’t matter, because there’s a cake with your book cover on it and your shoulders look great in that dress.  Oh, and did I mention that your book is in every Barnes and Noble in the country?  Face out.  Sometimes, it’s even on an end cap next to John Green’s book, because obviously, your book and his book are BFFs who spend each night, after the store has closed, snuggling together and whispering secrets in the dark.

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REUNITED, in good company.

But in the light of day, you can’t just let your book sit there.  You need to get out and do something, to spread the word even further.  So you set up library events and school visits, which you do relentlessly, for free.  You schedule readings at every bookstore that will have you, and sometimes, more than five people attend!  Oh, how you wish you’d written 50 Shades of Gray.

Often, as you drift off to sleep at night, you wonder if it would all be different had your publisher put your book up on NetGalley.  Or, if your time and money would have been better spent buying 1,000 copies of your own book and just giving them away to young readers, for free.  Either that, or Facebook ads.  Why didn’t you just try Facebook ads?

Still, there are more good reviews in the trades, and you’re still getting fan-mail.  So you learn to smile graciously when people commend you for your marketing savvy, even though there’s the slight chance your book’s sales might have been exactly the same had you done nothing at all.  The truth is, you’ll never know whether or not your marketing efforts were effective, or which ones worked, and which ones didn’t.  Because if you knew this, it would mean your publisher also knew it, and if that were true, every book ever written would be a huge financial success. Which your book might also be, only you haven’t gotten your royalty statement yet.

———-

A shout-out to my pal A.C. Gaughen (author of SCARLET) who asked me to write a short piece on book-marketing & ended up with this. ;)

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Filed under books, movies, YA, writing, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, Social media, young adult