Path to Publication 2.1: Readings, Book Trailers, and Why I Loved AWP So Much It Hurt

My debut novel, New Yorked, will be published by Exhibit A Books in January 2015. Until then, I'll be writing about the path to getting that book published...

My original plan for this installment was to address the daunting task of writing a follow-up to New Yorked. That feeling of, "Oh shit, I have to do this again." But also my unbridled excitement at revisiting the world of my protagonist, Ashley McKenna, as he struggles to find his moral compass.

Except this time, instead of the mean streets of New York City, I'll be setting him loose on the hipster-strewn streets on Portland, Oregon, within the environs of a vegan strip club. Because that's funny to me. 

I'm currently outlining the book. Studying maps. I've read The Magic Gardens by Viva Las Vegas. I've interviewed a stripper from Portland about the inner-workings of the scene. I even came up with a nice little nod to our Managing Editor, Joshua Chaplinsky, which I hope he'll appreciate. All good, productive things.

It's going to be like a Western. But like how Road House is a Western.

So, yeah, I was going to open this column with a quote that I love, that's common in the music industry, but just as applicable here:

You have your whole life to write your first album, and nine months to write your second.

Thing is, I don't want to write about the next book. Not right now. Because I've just gotten back from AWP, and there was a lot to take away from that experience... 

The art of the reading

The first time I read my fiction live, I hated the experience. Hated it. I was scared and I shook and my mouth was so dry that halfway through, I could barely talk. I've gotten a little better about it. And it's funny, because public speaking? Easy. I lectured at NYU on the publishing industry and it was a fucking blast. Want me to read a story? No bueno. 

But that was another important lesson. Not just about time management. About how much power there is in a room full of writers. How sometimes magic things can happen with the right people.

In doing the Noir at the Bar readings, I learned a valuable lesson from Johnny Shaw, the author of Dove Season and Big Maria. Johnny is a big personality already, but when he gets up to read he just owns the fucking room. And he told me that the most important thing you can do at a reading is make people laugh. 

Which makes sense, right? You always remember the ones who make you laugh. 

With that in mind I wrote a story called Knock-Off (which'll be published by Needle soon), which earned me some good laughs at a recent Noir at the Bar. That one was a lot easier to read out loud. 

Then I went to Adult Bedtime Stories at AWP, and I realized that this is what I want out of the reading experience. 

The event, at The Elliott Bay Book Company (awesome store) featured Suzy Vitello, Chelsea Cain, Monica Drake, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Chuck Palahniuk. Chuck wore a red robe and an ascot. The ladies were in slips and robes and heels and curlers, and man, all of them up there looked the way a woman's supposed to look: Powerful.

(Quick aside, and yes, this is straight-up bragging: I have never been cooler than in the moment when there was confusion over comp tickets at the door, and Lidia Yuknavitch vouched for me.)

(Second quick aside: The party was also a launch for Suzy's new book, The Moment Before. Read it. It's lovely.)

We wrote questions on beach balls with glow sticks stuffed inside, and threw them at each other in the dark (see header pic). Chuck tossed plastic severed hands and boxes of chocolate to the audience, and then he took to the mike and said (paraphrasing): "Tobias Wolf read yesterday. Amy Tan read today. What did they give you?"

And I thought: This is how I want my readings to go. I want them to be fun. I want them to be bigger than just standing at the front of a room, reading. 

Not to say there's anything wrong with that. 

The night before, or two nights before, I can't even remember at this point, we went to a reading hosted by Small Doggies Press, Nailed Magazine, Lazy Fascist Press, and Two Dollar Radio. It was in a big room full of pinball machines and free wine. We couldn't stay for the whole thing (here's what sucks about AWP: too much to do and not nearly enough time to do it), but we heard the first three readers. 

Matty Byloos read from his new book Rope. Patrick Wensink, who gave away the only copy of his book, used his experience as an improv comic to spin a tale about getting a tooth punched out. And poet Robert Lashley, holy shit, he just exploded up on stage.

Then we bounced, and the next day I found people who stayed, and they were in a daze from it. What I heard from the first three readers was great, but apparently that great kept going, and they all walked out of there riven. Which bummed me the fuck out, because I wish I had been there. But that was another important lesson. Not just about time management.

About how much power there is in a room full of writers.

How sometimes magic things can happen with the right people.

And the nice thing about AWP is how much of it you're spending with people like that.

Ideas and solutions

I do have an idea for how to make my readings fun: Burlesque.

So, here's the thing about my book: One of the main characters, Chell, is a burlesque dancer. And there's a flashback where the protagonist, our hapless Ash, meets her. He first sees her up on stage, and then they talk, and then they go home together, and it stays chaste, but it's still a fun, sexy scene. I think. 

Pretty soon I'm handing that section over to the head of a burlesque troupe, with the idea of turning that into a performance. I'll be walking around stage, narrating, while the dancer acts out Chell's movements. And then when there's dialogue, she'll speak Chell's part. 

Cool, right? 

It accomplishes a couple of things. First, I think it would be a lot of fucking fun. Second, it gets me in front of a new audience—cool people who might be amenable to checking out the book but maybe wouldn't have found it otherwise. And finally, I have to get over my stage fright to do it. I can't stand up there and mumble. I have to move around. I have to interact. I probably have to wear a bow-tie, because I can't imagine myself not wearing a bow-tie in this kind of circumstance. 

It scares the complete shit out of me and I'm looking forward to it so much I can't even explain it. 

Which I'm taking as a good sign. 

Though I don't want to forget or discount the power of people in a room. And I'm definitely going to be rooting around for people to read with. Because Noir at the Bar, or the pin-ball reading at AWP—they're about more than one person standing at the front of the room. They're about community, and sharing in a moment, which is important in a scene that can be so solitary for so long. 

Always, it's community that elevates us. 

A note on marketing and book trailers

Also fun: I had my first editorial/publicity call with Exhibit A. Which was fantastic. They're some brilliant, passionate people. I came in with a lot of ideas—marketing books is one of the things I do for a living, so of course I had ideas—and they were able to take my ideas and spin them into better, actionable ideas. And, man, it's nice to be tied up with such a cool group of people.

One of the things that didn't come up during the call, but did come up after the call, was: Book trailer. I thought about it. It's not something I wanted to do unless I had a really solid idea. 

And then I had a really solid idea.

Like, so good I don't even want to talk about it because I'm afraid someone will steal it. But the script is written. I'm feeling out friends to see who might have the knowledge and capability to shoot what I've got in mind. Here are some of the things I know I'm going to need: 

  • Catcher's mask
  • Working handgun
  • Ninja costume
  • Fidel Castro look-alike
  • Woman amenable to appearing in a bikini and a gorilla mask, but also with some sword-fighting ability

So, yes, I'm going with funny rather than with serious. 

I'm way at the beginning of the process here. I just know it'll need to be ready by January. That, by the way, is when my book is officially scheduled for. So, save your pennies!

The book trailer question aside... any questions about the process thus far? Let me know! Anything you're curious about, I'll do my best to answer. 

Oh, and, one last thing: I've got a mailing list. Going to try this newsletter thing, for the few times a year I have something worth announcing. Sign up and I promise to not spam you!

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Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson March 18, 2014 - 3:44pm

That reading was bloody amazing. So glad I got to share that experience with you and the gang, Rob!

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin March 19, 2014 - 2:53am

Readings, yeah, I'm pretty damn scared at the thought of doing one of those (not that I'm in that kind of position at the moment, but you know, it's one of those things you still find time to ponder and dread every now and then) So well done you! I like the performance reading idea, good luck with that. And the book trailer...gorrila masks, bikinis and sword fighting, consider my curiousity piqued :)

Thanks for sharing.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories March 19, 2014 - 8:59am

Since I live in Seattle I head to the Hugo House---which has open readings a couple times a month.  It is free and you can get cans of Rainier for 2 bucks.  No balls and glowsticks (sad, because it was fun to chuck those balls at strangers and I still have half my chocolate left), but it is free practice for reading prose in front of an audience.  Other cities must have such things where people can just get up and read their stuff.
Your book trailer sounds fun.  

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this March 19, 2014 - 9:02am

@La Em, it was a pretty special night, wasn't it?

@voodoo, one of the weird things about this is, yeah, I think a lot of writers spend time thinking about this stuff. The "what if." And now that I'm doing it, it's weird and fucking scary. But also fun! Nice to turn those daydreams into something concerete. 

@Scriv, Seattle definitely has the reading game nailed down, then. And I'm glad you and voodoo like the sound of the trailer, which when you look at it here is ridiculous, BUT, it actually does have a working theme. So once all this stuff is in context it'll make a lot of sense. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami March 20, 2014 - 5:40am

Question: How is the candy financed?

I'm wanting to do poetry readings, it doesn't seem like the thing to do would be to get an audience used to something you can't afford.

Or keep readings small.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this March 20, 2014 - 8:13am

@Sarah, not sure, but I imagine the readers paid for it. 

Cost is always a factor. It'll take a little creativity, for sure, especially in the beginning. 

One possible solution: Buy a bag of Hershey's kisses, and pelt the audience with them throughout the reading. More bang for your buck. 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books March 20, 2014 - 8:18am

I will dance for you, Rob. Call me.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this March 20, 2014 - 8:30am

I might need you for the book trailer, actually...

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books March 20, 2014 - 10:14am

I'm in.