DIY Publishing and Promotions
DIY publishing, this is how I got started. This is like old school DIY publishing because we didn't have Amazon. We didn't even have blogs or anything. So I was doing 'zines and chapbooks. That's paper. When you go to, formerly, we would just go into a Kinkos, steal a copy card 'cause we were punk. Like make a bunch of, print out your work, and jus tiptoe out. But, now you can do blogging, you can do self-publishing. And, to me, self-publishing is really, really valuable because it's hard for me to feel like my creative output is dependent on capitalism, markets, other people. I like to know that I have a little bit of agency and that there are channels that I can use to get my work to readers because, for me, I need readers. For whatever reason, it's not enough for me to write a book and put it in a drawer. I like to know that my book is getting out there in people's hands and is part of the cultural conversation. So it's probably important to you too although it's hard to explain why...
. When I was writing a book that implicated my family in a terrible way, my mother was like but why do you have to publish it? And, I was like why do I have to publish it? I just have to publish it. So yeah, my book Black Wave when it was having a hard time finding a publisher, I was very calmed to know that I could check out other routes, check out that Amazon route, check out other self-publishing routes. I never did, so I can't speak too expertly on what that's like. Okay, indie presses small and medium presses. They're not corporate. They're usually run by a single person or a small group of people who are very passionate about writing and about the kind of writing they do. Whereas a big press, a giant publisher might publish so many different types of work, small presses have their sort of niches. They have the type of work that kind of defines them. They are more interested in publishing work that excites them then work that's going to sell. All publishers want your work to sell. Don't get me wrong, but it's not that bottom line that's ruling them the way that it often will rule a bigger press. What is great about indie presses? I love indie presses. You get a lot of attention and a lot of devotion on small and medium presses. Again, because they're there for you for the long haul. They're not going to just promote your book for three months and then dump it and move onto the next book. A lot of these small presses, their back list which is the books that they've published awhile ago. So the way that publishers think about books, they have their you know what's out this season, and then there's their back list, the stuff they already published. For a lot of big publishers, unless you're super famous, that back list ends up pulped. It ends up remaindered. Those books that you find you know in a bookstore for $3. You know those are remaindered books that didn't sell. But, small presses, they see their back list as sort of helping to form their identity in the world. So your books stay alive with them for longer has been my experience. And, I really appreciate that because it takes books a long time to find their home sometimes. And, certain books like never stop finding their home. My book Valencia, I still hear from people who are just picking it up. And, you know the way that it sells if it had been on a big press, their sales would have been so negligible that book would've been pulped. But, on Seal Press, they really loved it, and they loved that it was part of their identity that they had published this book. And, so they're always promoting it. So that's really valuable as a writer. And, the personal relationships, I was going to say something that the turnover is bigger in larger presses. I'm not sure that that's true. There's just a lot of turnover in staff in publishing in general. People are always jumping around. But, I do feel like the personal relationships in indie presses are stronger, and I really like that. They do have resources, and they're more likely to give them to you. Not all of them have resources. That poetry press that published my poetry book. They have no resources. They will do nothing for that book. You know I have to do everything for that book, and that's okay. But, other presses like Feminist Press who is publishing my upcoming book and published Black Wave. You know I got a $2,000 advance, but they flew me to New York. They put me up. They fly me here and there. They put me up. So that's really helpful. It's not just your money. It's like how are they going to get behind this book, and how are they going to spend money on you in other ways besides just giving you cash in your pocket. Let me see. Indie press cons. Yeah, no advance, a small advance. You know they can have a smaller print run than the big publishers will publish like a bazillion copies of your book. A small press will not do that. I feel like that's fine. You know a lot of those bazillion copies is how your books end up on remainder tables sometimes. They publish what they think they can sell. Usually it's like 5,000 print run. And, if they run out, they'll print more. No big deal. The only time that I've know that to be a problem personally is a friend who published a book on a small press that then became a New York Times best seller quite unexpectedly and was selling like hotcakes. And, the publisher could not keep up with the demand. So that's a great problem to have. They went on to sell their next book to a bigger publisher, and they're just doing awesome. You know less resources, less competitive for sure. You know, but here's the thing because smaller presses do take chances and publish sometimes more daring and more interesting work, they can be the darlings of a lot of media. You know you can find, I mean my book Black Wave got reviewed in the New Yorker for the first time. And, that was incredible, and that was on Feminist Press who paid me $2,000. So you know I would've loved a huge advance. It's not possible. Would I have paid $60,000 to get reviewed in the New Yorker? Maybe. It kind of balances out, I think. Here's something. Just like an agent, a press should never charge you money. I'm not talking about DIY sort of self-publishing things where you're having to invest some money to get your book out. I mean presses who are trying to woo you. Do you know what I mean? You don't pay to publish your book unless you're involved in a self-publishing situation. Then you do. And, that's much better for you. These places are scams. When you're looking at a press, press should always have distribution, editors, and publicity managers, asterisk except for when they don't. You should push for these though. These are the basics. You want distribution. You know I have a friend who had a great book, and it went out on a press that somebody who was in a punk band that he admired had kind of whipped up. And, my friend really admired this like punk musician, but their press was sort of like it had not distribution. It wasn't really doing anything. His book was nowhere to be found. So you want to just make sure that these books get in bookstores. And, any like real, operating small, medium press, they get their books in bookstores. There are big distribution outfits, and it's their job to meet with small presses, find out what their doing. Then those distribution representatives go to bookstores and say here are all the cool small presses I represent. Here's the cool stuff they have coming out. And, the bookstores say I want that, I want that. So there's like a chain you know of how that works. You want an editor. My book Rent Girl didn't get edited. That press was mostly an art press that did that book. And, so they had some resources, but editors weren't really among them, and it needed an edit. So you do want somebody who's going to sit down with your book with a fine tooth comb and help you perfect it. And ideally, you want a publicity manager. You want somebody who can get a publicity plan together for your book. They're gonna want your help in this. You're gonna have a big hand in it, but they should be leading the way, and they should have their own resources like we know that X, Y, and Z reviewed our last books. Let's get your book out to them too. Let's do this, let's do that. So again, some presses have more of this than others. If a publisher is on a super shoestring, it still might be a good idea for you to get your book out into the world. So you have to just weigh these things. But, those are what you really want. Okay, the corporate presses, these big, big presses, they publish Stephen King and James Patterson, but they also publish Chelsea Johnson and Amber Tamblyn and Shanthi Sekaran. These publishers are often made up of little imprints. So there's the big, you know Penguin for instance, and then there's Penguin Plume. That's a little house within Penguin that publishes things of a certain type. It's almost like a little bunch of mini presses inside a giant press each with their own sort of identity. That's kind of how they operate. And, they're great. I mean they give you money. Here we go. They give you advances. That's really wonderful. It's wonderful 'cause we need money to live. It's also wonderful because it's validating. It feels really good to feel like somebody believes that your book is gonna sell that much, and they're gonna invest that in you. It feels really awesome. They do have resources. You see the other authors on their press are out there front in center in bookstores and doing media and whatnot. So it's great, and they're impressive. I mean it is. I mean when I was telling people I was on Penguin, oh Penguin. You know, and it was just like yeah, I'm on Penguin. So here's the cons. You're a small fish in a big pond. They have a lot of resources. Are they going to spend it on you? I don't know if they're gonna spend it on you. I don't think I got a lot spent on me because there's a brief marketing window. The big presses do marketing very differently than the small presses because they are publishing such a huge volume. So they're like a factory in some ways. Not to say that they're impersonal, but just because of how quickly they move. So when Black Wave came out, I felt like I was promoting throughout the whole entire year. I considered that book to be new for a year. I still kind of consider it to be you know something that I would still take care to promote. But, when I have books out on big presses, after three months, they're kind of done. It's a new season. They've got new authors to focus on, and you're not priority anymore. And, they won't necessarily send you anywhere. Like I had to cancel a reading 'cause of a snow storm for one of my big press books, and then when I tried to rebook it in the spring time, they wouldn't do it because they were just onto the next season. Whereas, I feel like it's been my experience publishing in independent presses that it can take a long time for a book to build and grow. Like my book Valencia has grown in popularity over decades really. So to feel like your book only had a three month window within to sink or swim is like whoa that felt like a lot of pressure to me. So there's that. I believe that's what I have to say about that. If you find yourself in the wonderful situation of somebody having bought your book and you don't have an agent which is very possible, try to see if you can find a lawyer or somebody with some sort of knowhow to look at your contract. If you find yourself in the possession of a contract. I mean there's absolutely a big difference between contracts I signed without reading 'cause I was just like I don't care. Whatever you want. I just want my book out, so here. And, then contracts that were actually vetted by somebody with some knowledge. So do yourself a favor. It's all a negotiation. Your publisher is gonna try to get everything, and you can say no I want my film rights. No, I want my, you know, my foreign rights. I don't know why you would want those things, but maybe you have an agent that actually wants to market your book to foreign publishers. Like that happens. So you kind of want to retain as much as you can. And, if you have an agent of a lawyer looking at it for you, they can try to fight for that for you. So yes. Now we're kind of walking down the path of like you've got a book coming out. So you get to do promotions. It's all happening. To me, this is the funnest part of having a book is just figuring out how to just like get your book out into the world and enjoy your new status as a person with a book. You know it never gets old. Every time I get a book that comes out, I'm just like I got a book. It feels really wonderful. The author questionnaire, this is like the dreaded author questionnaire. Your publisher be it a large one or small one, will give you an author questionnaire. They want to know everything. They want to know about your personal life. They want you to summarize your book I one sentence, in five sentences, in 10 sentences. They want to know every media contact you might have, every known person you might have. Do you belong to clubs? Who are you an alumni of? I mean set aside a day to do it because if you think like oh I've got 20 minutes, I'm just gonna. You're gonna get so overwhelmed and stressed out, and you'll like never do your author questionnaire. So just let it be, treat yourself, go to a cafe, sit down, do your author questionnaire as they're closing up around you, you're still answering questions. But, it's helpful. They really do work from it. They really do use it. And, here's the thing. Once you've done it once. Like I just kinda keep using the same author questionnaire. I kind of fill in, change the information around, add some more contacts I might have made. But, you can sort of just do it once. The parts about talking about your book are different. But, as far as like just the downloading of information that you have to do. Blurbs and endorsements, as we talked about right. Your editor will ask you who would you like to blurb your book? And, you can ask them who do you know? Do you guys have contacts with anyone you think this book would resonate with? You can also tell them who your dreams are. Well in my dreams it would be like this person who I have no contact with. They might have a contact with them. So put down your dream blurbers and then put down the people that you have contact with. I do think that they matter. I really do. Readers might not know you, but they know Oprah or Sandra Tsing Loh, or whoever you get to put on your book. And, they'll be like oh cool. I like them, they like that. I'll check it out. I really think it makes a difference. In addition to blurbing your book, they're also going to ask you to ask these people to just promote your book on the internet. Here's me doing it for Megan Bradbury. I loved this book Everyone Is Watching. She was hella pregnant, living in Britain, couldn't come over to the US to promote her book. So I was very happy to do it. Most writers are happy to promote your book. I mean, as I said earlier, we're all trying to get more content up. So if you ask me to you know promote your book on Instagram, I'd love to take a picture of it and send it out there. So that's also something you're going to have to ask people, so just gird your loins. It's a lot of asking things of people. But, here's something that's true. You know you could ask somebody for a blurb, and they might turn around and ask you for a blurb if your book blows up. You know there's like a woman who asked me to blurb her book years ago, and I asked her to blurb my book now because she's published these great books. So we all help each other. Galleys and reviews. Galleys are also called ARCs or advanced reader copies. And, these are like initial versions of your book that if a publisher has the resources to do this, not all publishers do, but at least medium and upwards will. It's a limited print run. Your book won't totally be edited. There'll be maybe some typos in it, but they produce it months in advance of your book coming out, and they get it to reviewers early 'cause they're trying to time reviews of your book with the debut of your book. So they don't want you book to come out in May and then it takes you know till August for the review to come out 'cause they want to make a splash. So these are great. They'll want your opinion. Do you know anyone we should send this to? Do you know anyone who reviews books? Do you know anyone who will get on the internet and be like oh my God I got so and so's galley. I'm so excited about it. So that's something that will happen. Galleys are cool. Oh, we're back to social media. I'm so sorry. I know it can trigger so much shame and embarrassment to have to toot your own horn like this. But, we do. We really have to toot our own horns. When you get a book out, you've gotta let people know it's coming. Look, my book's coming. This book's coming out in May. Look, people gave me hearts. People want to know that your book is coming out. So you just have to trust that. You know people do want to know what you're doing. If somebody's grumbling jealously in the corner, just pray for their souls and move on, you know? We should be happy for each other. We should be supporting each other. I want to support you. You guys want to support each other. If you have a book coming out, let the world know about it. It's part of your job as a writer actually. So here's my business Facebook page that I didn't have until my book Modern Tarot came out when I was asked by my publicist will you create a separate Facebook page? So I did, and it listed me by default as a food and beverage company 'cause of my last name. And, I can't for the life of me change it, and it still says that. So one thing that happens now is you can go live on Facebook, and I think you can go live on Instagram. And, so this was really fun for me when I was promoting leading up to the release of my book Modern Tarot. I would have Tarot Tuesdays, and I would just flip my cards, and I'd ask people to post questions. So I would just kind of scroll through and see who was there. And, if felt really fun. It was hard for me to make the time to do it, but it was really enjoyable. And, so you might want to be thinking how can you use something like this to help you promote your book, you know? Especially if it's a non fiction book or something, you know if you're writing a book on skateboarding like do you go live at the skate park? Like whatever it is you're doing. Do you want to interview people that have something to do with your book? I think it can be really fun to be creative about it, and it'll make your publisher real happy. I'm in the business of like making my publisher happy. Like whatever they want me to do, I will do it. And, I've had publishers tell me you're the best person we've ever worked with. You're so easy. And, it probably 'cause I'm like a people pleasing pushover, but still I love it. I'm just like good. I want to be real easy to work with, real easy to work with over here. Oh, this is such a drag. This is a new thing that is now expected of writers. So you have your book coming out, and now you have to write essays that are thematically linked to what your book is about, but it's not an essay about your book. It's somehow in the vein of it. Your publisher will help you place these through their contacts. They will want to know if you have contacts too. You know I've used my own contacts and my publisher's contacts to do this. Sometimes they pay. They often don't pay enough as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes, they don't pay at all, but you have to do it. It's a new way of promoting your book. So when my book Black Wave came out, it's a lot about addiction in Los Angeles. So I wrote a very humorous guide to my alcoholic bottom in Los Angeles like a tour where I went back to these different places where crazy things had happened. It was fun. And, that went up on Buzzfeed. And, then for my Tarot book, I blogged about my Tarot collection. A lot of times, I don't want to do these things. I mean the fact is by the time your book comes out, sometimes you are so sick of your book, you're sick of whatever you wrote about. You don't want to do it, but you just have to. You gotta suck it up and do it. So you can expect that. You can expect to need a website. If you don't have one, your publisher will want you to have one. Who doesn't have a website? Does anyone not have a website? If you want to publish, get a website. Your publishers will expect it of you. Agents will expect it of you. And, they're gonna want you to flash your new book on it. When it's time for your new book to come out, they're gonna want, they'll provide you with like the right sized images, and they'll want you to have your website homepage be all about your new book. This is Morgan Parker. You should read her. She's amazing. That's her website. They'll also want you to do an Amazon page. Here's Linda Berry's Amazon page. She's amazing also. And, an author page. I have one. I've never used it. I don't know why it exists, but my publisher wanted me to do one. It's fine if these things overwhelm you to ask for help. It's fine for you to let your publicist or your editor know I'm really willing to do all of this, but I'm bad with technology. I don't understand. Can you hold my hand? Is there somebody who can help me? I think that publishers are willing to do that. Here's another thing that will be asked of you. Will you please have your friends write a positive review of your book on the internet on Amazon. You're like is that fair? Well as Joan Crawford said, no one every said life was fair. This is the world we live in. Thank you Lauren Sanders for that. She's a great writer. If somebody really thinks your book stinks, they're not required to do it. They'll probably just like pretend they never saw that status update. But yeah, you just put it out on Facebook or something. Hey you guys, if any of you like my book, please take a second and put a review up on Amazon. It really makes a difference. Does it make a difference? I don't know. Publishers believe it makes a difference. So we do it. Yes?
Is that really Matt Dillon, the Matt Dillon?
No, it's not. The reviewer is Blue Jeans, but their subject is Matt Dillon.
Oh, it's in your book where you met Matt Dillon.
It's in my book Black wave I make Michelle who's me have an affair with Matt Dillon. 'Cause that's your power as a fiction writer. You can do that. So I wanted to take full advantage. Okay in my opinion, you write book so you can go on a book tour. That's what I'm doing with my life. Book tours are great. Ideally, you have a publisher who knows this, who supports this. You want to, at least, hit the major cities. You want to hit New York, maybe Boston, Chicago. You want to hit Portland, Seattle. And, if you want to go to those little college towns that are cool like Austin or Tucson, you know do that too. You know some publishers, they might not have a ton of resources, but sometimes they have university connections, and they can get you university gigs which are amazing. You basically do a reading at a university. Maybe you do a class visit, and you get paid which is wonderful because you know book tours, it's travel. It's expensive. These publishers will want to know if you have any special connections at bookstores. Did you work at one? Is there one in your hometown? What about where you live now? They'll want to know what are the special things that they can do to sort of amp up your presence somewhere. That's not very clear. If your publisher cannot send you on a book tour 'cause not all of them can or will, I really, really recommend that you put yourself on a book tour. It's an investment in your work. I know you might not be able to afford it, so to the best of your financial ability, take yourself on a road trip, go visit some friends. Where do you have people who will put you up? You know lean on your publisher for as much support as possible, you know? If they said we don't have money for a book tour, push back and say okay well I'm gonna take myself X, Y, and Z, what can you offer me? Can you offer me a stipend for food? You know just see what they can do. And again, some places, some publishers have it. Some publishers have it but won't give it to you. Those are the bigger presses. Some publishers don't have it. So just do whatever you can. This is a picture of Sister Spit which is a performance tour that I started in the '90s. It's still going on today. I don't run it anymore. I handed it over. But, I did it so that all we writers who weren't very connected could go across the country and build a readership and find people who were interested in our work, and it really worked. We had people find their agents through doing this. I mean band together with other people who also have a book coming out. There's all kinds of things that you can do. Beth Lisick went on a book tour with herself in her pickup truck. I don't drive, so this is kind of how I had to, I had to make it a circus, so somebody could drive me across the country. But, it was great. It's really fun. And, now with social media, I mean you can blog about your book tour. You can just be on social media just like showing people about your book tour. It's really fun, I think. Here's me at a bookstore with Sister Spit on one of out Sister Spit trips. And, I really recommend if you are going out on your own, and it's your first book, try to not read alone at bookstores. If you're going to a town, and you have a friend who's a writer, ask them to come read with you. If you don't know anybody, contact the bookstore. Say hey are there any local writers who you think would like to read with me? I just think that you know even by the time I published Rose of No Man's Land, I was like six or seven books in, and I'd traveled a lot. But, I went and did a reading in Phoenix, Arizona at a bookstore, and I hadn't really been in Phoenix very much, and like nobody came to my reading, you know? Or, like I did a Barnes and Noble in Olympia where I've done such stuff in punk shows in Olympia with huge crowds but no one came to Barnes and Noble. So bookstores can be funny sometimes. If a person thinks, like oh a reading if boring, or I don't know that writer. But, if you're with more people, like the thing that happened with Sister Spit is it didn't feel like a literary reading. It felt like an event. Something was going on. People were curious. So if you can do that. You know we weren't the only people to do this. We did it first. There's other groups of writers who've banded together and taken their work on the road and had success because it's like a circus is coming to town. There's writers, there's like Hell on Heals were a bunch of femme girls who did it, Mangoes with Chili were all writers of color. So yeah, you can just sort of find who your people are that you want to go on the road with. Or, just bring people on stage with you when you hit these various towns. But, try not to do it alone is my suggestion. This is something that's very popular right now being in conversation. It's another thing you can do. My friend Tara Jepsen has her first book out right now, and I'm gonna be in conversation with her. The idea being that people might not know Tara 'cause it's her first book, but they know me. And, so it's like a living blurb. We just get to have this cool conversation about her book. And yeah, it's just a way to shake up literary experiences. I think that people really like to hear writers talk about their work. And, they like the opportunity to ask writers questions and be part of a conversation. So look again to see who's in your network. Who do you think would be a cool person to have a conversation? Pitch it to a bookstore. Here's the writer Justin Chin. Giving a great reading is really one of the best things you can do for your book. Especially when I was curating Sister Spit for so many years thinking of who I would take on the road, I felt like it really was a good opportunity for writers to broaden their readership and build their career. Sometimes, there are writers whose work on the page I loved, but they were terrible readers. And, I just couldn't bring them with me. So if you can do a dynamic reading of your work, you're really helping yourself out. I really recommend it. Having a good time is also something great to do for your book. Justin, he gave out poppers with one of his books. Everyone got a little vial of poppers. Ali Liebegott, when she did one of her book parties, she'd taken a bunch of pennies and then made them patina. You know where they turn green, and she handed everybody these pretty little patinaed pennies. Book parties are great. Have fun. Have party favors. Invite people. Make it a big event. When I did my book party for Black Wave, I invited like one thing that people do is you invite a lot of different people to read a piece of your book. And, that can be really fun. So I invited like a fashion designer I love to read from it and a TV writer and a comedian. It was really fun. So yeah, celebrate yourself. Like it's a big deal. We started at this workshop way back remember? And, now look you're published. So you went through a lot to get here. So really enjoy it. So I know I just laid a lot of information on you. Does anybody have any questions? We have time for that now. Yes?
So you have a blog, is that right?
I don't have a blog. I have blogged at different points. I blogged for three years on xoJane when I was trying to get pregnant called getting pregnant with Michelle Tea. I was part of a collaborative blog called Ironing Board Collective. It was a fashion blog where I blogged about fashion once a week, and the others filled in the other days. Blogging is great. Here's something to think about blogging. If you are putting work up on the internet, a publisher will not want to publish it in a book which I've just learned. Largely because of Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea, I've had a lot of people ask me is that going to be a book? And, so I've pushed it on publishers a lot and being like I get asked about this. But, publishers are like it's on the internet. We're not gonna publish it. Also my book Against Memoir that's coming out. It's an essay collection. It's a lot of work that's on the internet already, so because of that I had to write all this new material for them to agree to publish it. So you know it's like make a name for yourself out there, get your writing out there. You know if you're writing a novel or something, don't put your novel out there. Maybe do a little teaser or something. But, blog about related things. But, just if something's part of a larger project, don't put it on the internet.
One quick question from online. So this is from Bev Booker who's from Ohio and says what if your focus is one book. Like you think you have one book in you. Is an agent going to be interested in you if that's sort of you mindset? Should you keep that to yourself, or what is your advice?
That's an interesting question. An agent isn't necessarily going to ask you how many books do you have in you? They are only going to go one book at a time. I mean I wouldn't like brag about it, (laughing) or make a point of talking about it. And, also 'casue you don't know that. It's like if you've actually written a book from start to finish, like you've got some chops. You've got some staying power. You did it. You might have another book at some point. So don't write yourself off so quickly. But yeah, I think that even if you did tell an agent, if you've written one awesome book, that agent is still going to want to sell that. So that shouldn't get in the way. But, I just wouldn't close any doors on yourself. That's all.
Exactly. All right, well Michelle, I think our time is up. So please let us know where we can follow you, how people can keep in touch.
Right here, michelletea.com. I'm on Facebook. I'm on Twitter. I'm on Instagram. My life's an open book. I'm here to help. Good luck to all of you.
Thank you so much. (audience clapping)