About Gillian Marchenko

Gillian Marchenko is the author of Still Life, A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression and Sun Shine Down, a book about her daughter's birth and diagnosis of Down syndrome in the former Soviet Union. She is also the creator and teacher of an online course entitled Memoir 101, write a memoir worthy of publishing. Gillian lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Keep up with Gillian at gillianmarchenko.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter. (GillianMarchenkoPage & @GillianMarchenk.)

Seven No Nonsense Book Launch Tips for Broke Authors

Seven no nonsense book launch tips

 

Sun Shine DownI am launching a book.

My memoir, Sun Shine Down, published at the end of August with T. S. Poetry Press. Eeek!

As a broke, green as the grass in mid-July first time author, I tackled the daunting assignment of launching a book like any other able-minded individual in North America.

I googled ‘book launch.’

In .02 seconds, reputable results-driven marketing and publicity firms jumped into my line of vision. These people surely could launch my book into the stratosphere!

But after some number crunching and a realistic talk with my husband about where hiring a publicist falls in the needs of a family of six (braces, soccer, therapy, FOOD), I conceded. We could not hire help for Sun Shine Down.

These days, whether we sign with a big publisher, a small press, or self-publish, we bear much of the responsibility for launching our own books. And it’s hard work.

If you, too, are a broke new author, here are seven no-nonsense book-launching tips:

1) Plan ahead

If you wait to plan your book launch until your book is out, you’re toast. Plan ahead. Start six months before you are to publish. Research, and consider elements of a book launch you will utilize.

2) Launch your book online

Social media is a marketing ocean. You’ve got Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram … Where do you spend your time online? How can you introduce your book in those venues? With Amazon stomping on the book industry, it is a mistake not to market online.

3) Launch your book offline

Is a book party right for you? I’m hosting a party at a bar down the street from my house. I’m doing it on a Monday (because the venue is free then), providing appetizers, and using evites and Facebook events to publicize. Extra tip: Don’t call your gathering a book signing. Call it a book party. Who doesn’t love a good party?

4) Don’t spam people to death with your book

Not everyone is excited to hear about your book all day every day. Post about your book (especially on your Author Fan Page–don’t have one? Um, get going), but don’t post several times a day. It just makes you look full of yourself. The trick is fun, cool content, and looking like you’re not trying that hard even when you are.

4) Create a Facebook launch team

In an effort to build buzz about Sun Shine Down, I invited Facebook friends to join a super secret launch group. I offered perks for joining ( a free PDF advanced copy of the memoir, a thank you on the blog, access to a secret group, and interaction with the author) and requirements (help promote for five weeks, post about the book on your blog, etc.). My secret group has been the highlight of promotion so far. Why? Because relationships are being strengthened and we are having fun! It is also a great way to ensure Amazon reviews once the book is published (make it a requirement).  Read this post to see how I did it. 

5) Get help!

OK, I know that I sound like I am contradicting myself. But next time (God willing), I will hire someone or ask a friend to assist with some promotion. I’m talking about someone to help with a couple time consuming tasks and who is affordable (as opposed to a publicist who would do everything and is expensive). I’m talking a flat rate per month to run a blog tour or help with the launch group. I’d like not to have that pressure, and I am finding out with this book that there are virtual assistants and others who could fit this description. *Note: I LOVE publicists, so If I get to that point in my career when I can hire one, I probably will.

6) Create a new email address to send out official book launch news

I simply created a new Gmail account with the name of my book and merged it with my current email account so that when I send out press releases and other book emails, it looks official (instead of the author sending them, which she is 🙂 ).

7) Set expectations low

This is my Eeyore personality coming out, but I suggest you set your expectations low. Then you’ll be pleasantly surprised when something remarkable happens. Not an Eeyore? More a Tigger? OK, then expect like crazy. We are all different. In my experience, though, the people I thought would help publicize and raise excitement about Sun Shine Down haven’t. I did have one or two wild cards, individuals I knew for a short time long ago who have become cheerleaders and promoters complete with pom- poms and cardboard signs.

Here’s to successful book launches, and to many more hours with our butts in chairs, getting books written so that we can, gasp, go through the nonsense of launching again and again!

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Open Your Eyes, the Blinding Truth About Writing

Photo credit

Photo credit

Open Your Eyes

One time as a kid, I tried to walk home from the corner store with my eyes closed.

I knew the way. My brother and sister and I stopped in often at the tiny grocery store with floor to ceiling products and cold, cement floors, always desperately worried that Marsha, the mean cashier with a mustache, was working, and at the same time buoyed in our courage by the lure of fizz candy and green, curvy, ice cold bottles of Coca Cola.

I memorized every break in the sidewalk and each pebble from thousands of trips back and forth from our house to the market. It was a straight shot, no turns, no need to cross the street.

Confident I could find my way home using other senses, I closed my eyes. As a child I subscribed to the notion that if I couldn’t see, then no one else could see me either. Creeping forward, I gained confidence, enlightened by heightened noises and smells. I smelled pine. I heard cars zipping by on the street. My feet kicked broken up pieces of gravel on the sidewalk as I meandered.

Within a few steps, I smacked into a tree. Dubbed by confidence, I had veered off to the left. The impact wasn’t that severe because I had been going at a turtle’s pace. But my forehead stung and my pride was hurt. My eyes, now wide open, darted around for witnesses. I ran the half block home to my mother in tears.

The Blinding Truth

Most of us who write, or who want to write, will recognize this story. We’re at a party, or out to lunch with an acquaintance, and we mention the book we are working on.

“Oh, you’re writing a book? That’s great. I want to write a book some day.”

You nod, take a bite of your chicken sandwich on rye, and wonder if your conversation partner realizes you’re talking about actually writing a book, not taking in nine holes of golf on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Here’s the blinding truth about writing: if you want to write, than you have to write.

Not only that, but you have to be willing to be humbled. You have to want to learn about craft, and building a platform, and countless drafts, endless revisions, fuzzy hours staring at a computer screen, keeping your butt on the chair in order to get the story down, and growing thick skin for rejections. Because rejections come, my friends. Oh, they come.

Earnest Hemingway said that we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

There is always more to learn about writing, and the best way I can figure out how to learn is by keeping my eyes open, and realizing that it is going to take work.

Gloria Steinem said that writing is the only thing that, when she does it, she doesn’t feel she should be doing something else. If that’s you, if that is how you feel, well then, write.

But do it with your eyes open …

The Memoir and the Robin

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I sit in the living room, my laptop in front of me, open, alive, waiting for my fingers to type.

But I don’t. I can’t seem to think of one true word, let alone one true sentence. Papa Hemingway would not be impressed.

Thud… Thud…

My eyes follow the thud to the window that looks out to our chipped blue porch and the Japanese maple in the front yard. Within a month, leaves will bud. Eventually a glorious rust-colored blanket from the tree will shelter the porch.

Thud.

A robin flies into the window. She backs up, bewildered, and returns to her perch on a bare branch of the Japanese maple.

“Oh, you poor bird. I understand. I’ve hit my head against my reflection more than once in my life.”

The robin seems to catch her breath, and she’s off again, flying towards the window, searching for someone in the smudge filled glass. Herself? A lover? What does she want, and why doesn’t she learn her lesson? There’s nothing there for her but a hard, cold surface that will cause her pain.

And still, she flies into the window. Again and again and again.

Thud… Thud … Thud …

I watch her as I sit on our comfy, worn leather couch with a hole in the right seat cushion, the buzz of the laptop the only noise–that, and the recurring thud of the bird.

On writing memoir

As a memoirist, this happens, this hitting my head against a hard surface, when I get too introspective with my work. I am the writer, and the narrator, and the main character, and sometimes my roles mingle to the point of self-obsession and confusion. My desire to be perceived well, and to reach my personal predestined truth in the story turns me into a robin, fixated on my reflection, attempting time and again to break into something bigger than me, but really only hitting my head against a hard surface.

Annie Dillard says that you have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader’s arms, like a drunk, and say, “And then I did this and it was so interesting.”

Thud.

The robin has banged her head against our window for three days. I’ve tried to deter her by closing the curtains and opening the window a bit, but to no avail. She returns every few moments, unaware that if she just shifts her focus there is a whole world to fly into and discover.

If a memoirist’s goal is for people to esteem her, to like her, to want to be like her, it will show in the work. The writing will fall flat, come across as inauthentic, and showy.

No, the memoirist should write for discovery. According to Andre Gide, a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947, one doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

A good memoirist is open to her story’s agenda. She participates with the reader, and diminishes the importance of her role for the sake of the universal truth found in her words.

“On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points,” says Virginia Woolf. I would add that every good memoir has a point outside the visceral domain of the writer starting out. Our job is to bring ourselves and our readers to that point. Instead of a writer playing tour guide, the memoirist should rather find herself on the journey in the words. Then she will be able to fly right and free for discovery, and most assuredly get herself and her readers somewhere she would not have found on her own.

Are You a Good Literary Citizen?

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Are you a good literary citizen?

I’ll never forget it. I was probably eight or nine years old, and my family had gotten up early to get a spot in the front for the Blossom Time Parade in a neighboring town.

This was a big deal. Every year, thousands of people from Southwest Michigan gathered, anticipating a show of marching bands, fire trucks, homecoming queens, and buckets of candy thrown out to kids scurrying in retrieval around the pavement like ants.

The year I recall was an extra-big, super duper deal, because “Samantha”–the youngest child from the quasi popular 1980 sitcom Gimme a Break!–was scheduled to appear.

Now, I wasn’t a big fan of Gimme a Break!, nor did I think Samantha was the best child-actor of my youth, but she was going to be there, in my small town parade, and I loved to act in school, and every time I thought about meeting a real life star, a firecracker lit and crackled in my gut. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd at the parade, armed with a glittery pink pen and my diary.

Samantha waved and smiled as she sat on top of a cherry red Corvette. And then it happened. The car paused in line, waiting for the parade to continue, and a swarm of preteen girls crowded around Samantha, holding out pictures and paper for her to sign. My legs took off, and before I knew it, I was there too, in the swarm, buzzing, waiting for my turn to ask for an autograph.

Once most of the girls got their autographs, the car started to move. Panicked, I held out my diary to Samantha as her handler winked at me and said, “Surely we have time for one more.”

My heartbeat skipped.

“No! We don’t have time for any more,” Samantha hissed, pushing my diary towards my chest. Her eyes met mine coldly. “I’m done.”

The driver switched from the brake to the gas. I watched Samantha creep forward in the parade, once again smiling and waving to her adoring fans.

Who knows what was going on with Samantha. Everyone has bad days. But I have to admit, I was one disappointed, disenchanted little girl.

I decided that if I were ever fortunate enough to do well at something I loved, I’d be sure to be kind.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I’m pleased to announce that time and again, as a new author, I’ve encountered kindness and generosity in the literary world.

What is a good literary citizen?

This is my definition: a person who supports creativity, who esteems work, and helps others grow in their craft. It’s a person who buys books (and lots of them!) and networks on behalf of authors and writers she or he admires.

I think about Samantha when authors share their knowledge of writing and publishing with me. I think about Samantha when I witness someone farther down the publishing road give a nod and a hello to another starting out.

I hold out my diary and these kind souls take my glittery pen and jot me a note. “Congratulations! Keep going! Try this agent. Sure, I’ll review your work.” Or even this: “I can’t help you now, but all the best to you!”

I don’t take it for granted. People in the publishing world are busy. There is no reason why some should respond to my letters or emails with such goodwill, but they do. And I learn that sure, there are Samanthas in the world. But that’s okay. There are also authors and writers who do their best to help strong work rise to the surface for all to enjoy.

There are people who value being good literary citizens.

Not every author or writer can help. Not everyone will care to help. But of course, everyone can pass on a measure of goodwill as another pursues her dreams.

And we can do it with kindness for the sake of our literary world.

*In an effort to pay it forward in the literary world, I am doing a daily author interview and book giveaway (from writers who happen to be mothers and write about it) the week of May 6th, leading up to Mother’s Day. Drop by to hear from great authors such as Shauna Niequist, Jennifer Grant, Kate Hopper, Claire Bidwell Smith and one more (waiting on a confirmation :)). Find out more at www.gillianmarchenko.com.

When Your Book Doesn’t Sell: Separating the Writer From the Wannabe

“I’m so glad it is our first year here so that the pressure’s off to win an award. I heard you have to be returning to be in the running,” my friend Kim leaned over and whispered as we sat in the back of Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference’s auditorium last April.

“Seriously, right?” I said, slouching down in the pew and sighing. We were settled in for the final night of programming; awards, music, and a message from the great Liz Curtis Higgs, who, if I am being honest, seemed so inviting and encouraging that it took all I could muster not to walk over and crawl up in her lap.

The week in California had been a dream for this mother of four, prone to piles of laundry, homework with kids, housework, and therapy and doctor appointments for my two daughters with Down syndrome. One week by myself, ensconced with like-minded people, authors, agents, publishers, and writers with dreams of their own, in one of the prettiest parts of God’s creation.

So you can imagine my surprise when my bio was read and my name was called. I won the Ethel Herr 2012 Most Promising New Writer Award for submitting 25 pages of my memoir about giving birth to my daughter Polly, and her diagnosis of Down syndrome, while serving as a missionary in Ukraine. My friend and I jumped up and down, and I ambled to the stage. The bright lights made me dizzy. Liz Curtis Higgs gave me a huge smile. “Wonderful!” Ethel Herr (Ethel Herr!) gave me a hug. The award thrilled me, and embarrassed me. After all, I was just a mom, trying my hand at this writing thing.

I naively left the conference sure that I would secure an agent and a publisher for my book within minutes of walking in the door back home.

Yeah. That didn’t happen. I secured an agent, but months later, through a different writing venue. The manuscript garnered interest from publishing houses that even resulted in two frightening, sweat-producing face to face meetings.

But so far, my book hasn’t sold.

Here are three things I’ve learned from this experience so far:

1. Keep writing

Someone offered me sage advice once I completed my manuscript. “Start another one.” Diving right back into another book length project has been one of the best things I’ve done as a writer. I’m a writer, not a wannabe, because I want, no, I need to write, not just to be published. I am growing in my craft, and I am still having fun doing it.

2. Grow your platform

I’ll admit it, there have been days that I’ve wanted to curl up in a ball over my memoir not finding a publishing home. OK, there have been days I have curled up in a ball because my memoir has not found a publishing home. But I’m a writer, not a wannabe, because I get back up and keep trying. I am building my platform and brand through articles, speaking, social media, and blogging.

3. Trust God’s timing

As a person of faith, although my carnality wants what I want in my timing, this experience has been a great exercise in trusting God and his timing. I am called to write. And by God’s grace, he uses my words in other people’s lives, and in my personal pursuit to become more like Jesus. So I practice trusting him. If it is God’s will for my memoir to be in print, it will happen. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.

I may not be a published author, but I am a writer, not a wannabe.

And today, that’s enough to get back to this crazy, exciting, challenging work of putting pen to paper.

3 Top Tips to Gain Facebook Fans on Your Author Page

3 Top Tips to Gain Facebook Fans on your Author Page

As a modern day writer, I aspire to hone my craft and make the words sing on the page  as much as the greats did, people like Hemingway, Dickens, and the Brontë Sisters.

Okay, that’s a bit of a haughty statement.

Let me just say I work hard at writing better.

But in 2013, writers have the added stress of social media. We write, yes. But we also build, and gather, and hunt. We structure writing platforms. We gather tribes of readers. We hunt for excellent literary agents, and publishing houses that will not only get our work in print, but shine a light on it for the world to see.

It can be exhausting, this business of modern day writing. So I am throwing out three of my best tips about Facebook. My author fan page has proved to be a great tool to interact with potential readers.

Here are three of my top tips to gain Facebook fans on your author page.

1) Make sure your personal page connects to your fan page on the header to allow for cross promotion. Especially now that Facebook wants fan pages to utilize paid promotion, it is vital that your personal page easily and prominently connects friends with your fan page.

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If you aren’t sure how to do this, here’s a step by step tutorial from Amy Lynn Andrews from Blogging With Amy.   

Likewise, on your fan page, ensure that your author website appears in the “about” section at the top.

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2) Provide pictures with text through sites like PicMonkey. When I promote a blog post on my fan page with an uploaded photo, I get more likes and shares. Make sure your website is noted in the corner of the picture. Here are a couple examples:

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evie loves her life

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Check out this post if you’d like a simple tutorial to walk you through PicMonkey. You can use the site for free, or pay a small monthly fee for more options.

3) Know Facebook protocol. For example, it is against the rules to advertise on your cover photo (like a website address). So if you have a header with your website, change it, before Facebook shuts down your page. Also, it is considered bad manners on Facebook to post a blog or an article more than once on your page, whereas on Twitter, you can post three to five times a day. Want to find out more? Read this post from Author Media.

Do you have Facebook tips you’d like to share with us? How do you think Earnest Hemingway would do with social media? Yeah, me too. Happy Facebooking!

5 Ways to Break Up a Writing Iceberg: The Book Proposal

I remember the day well.

After four years, hours and hours of writing, time away from my kids, countless books read on craft, writing classes Spring TX, and two professional edits, I finally finished my 260 page memoir.

“Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.”- Tom Clancy

Mr. Clancy’s quote, once my eyes stumbled upon it, coaxed a satisfied sigh from my gut. I closed my eyes, imagining myself at the helm of a ship, arms stretched out like Rose and Jack from The Titanic.

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But seriously, like the next day, my excitement and feelings of great accomplishment hit an iceberg when I forced myself to pay attention to two words that had floated around my mind throughout the project:

BOOK PROPOSAL.

If my manuscript is the Titanic, then the book proposal is the iceberg.

A book proposal is a thorough description of a manuscript, the market it would serve, and a sample of the story, usually the first two or three chapters.

And something I had no idea about until my manuscript was nearly completed.

Once my manuscript was finished, I assumed I could change the sail on my writing ship, pound out a quick proposal, and venture into new waters of querying agents.

Not so.

I had no idea about the painstaking amount of work a thorough, well-written, well-representing book proposal entailed. It took time and several confusing revisions to write an acceptable book proposal.

So here’s some advice, sailor to sailor:

1) Discern the genre. Book proposals, and when to submit them, are different depending on fiction or non-fiction. Fiction and memoir manuscripts should be completed before the proposal is submitted to an agent or a publisher. Non-fiction books can and do sell on proposal with a couple of chapters to provide the flavor and quality of the writing.

2) Work on your proposal while you are writing your manuscript. I should have started researching book proposals right away. Writing the proposal while working on the manuscript would have provided needed focus. A proposal can be a great map of where you are in your project, and where you need to go.

3) Write well. Your book proposal is probably the first writing sample a prospective agent or editor will see from you. Don’t rush. Let the voice rendered in your manuscript seep onto the proposal page. Agents and editors see many proposals. Take the time and attention required to make your proposal flawless and flavorful.

4) Stick to the basic elements of a proposal. Some include a cover page, an overview of the story, the hook, a biography of the author, marketing strategies, chapter summaries, and sample chapters.

I purchased a template from a famous author. It was a great way to get me started, but once an agent was landed, she preferred I use her agency’s template. Though similar, it wasn’t quite the same. Realize that an agent or editor will probably want you to tweak your proposal.

5) A successful book proposal requires research. Learn from the best. Check out:

Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals That Sell: 21 SECRETS TO SPEED YOUR SUCCESS

Have you written a book proposal? Are you in the process of writing a book proposal? Any advice? What’s been the most challenging part of the process? Please share with your fellow sojourners.