During 1980 and 1981, when I was an eight- and nine-years-old girl, my father met with his comrades, sometimes in our house and at other times at their homes. 1,711 more wordsFilching Our Books — The Abstract Elephant Magazine
Excerpted from the Shabnam Curtis’s memoir, My Persian Paradox.
One June day of my freshman year/ninth grade, in 1985, I needed a break from studying. My mother suggested we go out for ice cream to Tajrish Circle. Tajrish, a shopping area on the skirt of the mountains in the northern part of Tehran, was a favorite place for my mother and me to wander, especially for window shopping and mouthwatering snacks. My father disagreed. “Afternoons are the worst time to go to Tajrish. There will be no parking spots. It’s hot outside. Why don’t we just stay at home and rest?” To my mother, he grumbled, “You take advantage of her, suggesting ice cream to satisfy your own childish desires.”
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(1020 words – almost 8 minutes read)
Yes, there is still a stigma with being an indie author. There are bookstores, contests, and awards that do not accept self-published books. In the writing community, you are better off having a publisher’s name even if your publisher does not support much to promote your book.
Despite the stigma, I decided to walk the indie author path and test its freedom. My story about an Iranian girl who lived under the Iranian dictator regime was timely and needed to be in the world, and the whole process of finding an agent and then a publisher would take more than two years.
I was confident about my decision, and I knew I’d make many mistakes since I was a newbie in the publishing world. I wasn’t unaware of my ignorance, but I was willing to try it.
I published my book on March 20, 2019, with a well-attended launch party and started with good sales. However, I knew the high-rank sale would not last long. So, I started working hard on promoting the book while I was learning the alphabet of the promoting process. At the end of 2019, I was burnt out but had gained enough maturity to put my situation in perspective.
I started appreciating those 5 to 10 people who showed up at my book reading events or Memoir writing workshops. I realized my book as a tool for community building, and I could start with small local communities. The importance of number of sales wasn’t significant anymore. Of course, I like to sell more books, but not selling many isn’t heartbreaking anymore. Why? Because I learned figuring out the monster algorithms such as Amazon and Goodreads is pretty impossible. I also do not have essential connections with journalists and famous authors, so I cannot get a lot of words spread out. And, last but not least, I don’t have money to hire a publicist to build the connections for me. So, in 2020, using what I learned from 2019 efforts, I decided to do what I could do. Be a local author and work with local organizations.
I came to believe the power of the local community. So, I reached out to libraries, non-profit organizations, and college professors in the Washington DC area. I have been having at least one event per month and have a couple of activities set up for the next six months. I enjoy my book talks, memoir writing workshops, and becoming a storyteller. It is a community service that I can offer to give meaning to my life and, hopefully, to others. Being a local author has been a pleasure, and I feel genuinely honored when others reach out and give me feedback or ask my attendance for an event. It took almost one year of hard work to be part of a community that counts on you. It is rolling now!
So, based on my personal experience ( and few others around me), if you feel you like creating real and authentic connections with a few numbers of people, being an indie author will be a fulfilling one deepening the meaning of your life. Now, I’d like to share a few mistakes that I’ve made with you:
- I left only 3 months between finalizing the manuscript and publishing date. That was not enough because:
- The pre-sale need to start 3 months before your release date.
- The final manuscript needs to go to at least 50 beta readers for earning a few reviews in Goodreads before the pre-sale starts.
- The final manuscript needs to be sent to possible reviewers such as authors or public figures to gain their review for blurbs on your website, Goodreads, and on the book.
- You need many weeks to contact many bookstores and set an event right after the book is published.
- And this is if you already have your Goodreads author page and your website up and running.
- I spent money on any marketing opportunity came my way because despite my own decision, I subconsciously believed as an indie author, I don’t have many good chances. Wrong! Be careful where you invest in marketing. There are some that worth doing. Spending money on Bookbub (if they accept your book) could be helpful to increase the number of sales in Amazon and make your book more visible. My mistake was that I didn’t plan the timing of reducing the price of the e-book to $0.99 correctly. Bookbub refused to promote my book on full-price, and what I had paid for was non-refundable.
- I paid for a booth and, attended a few Book Festivals. Except for Gaithersburg book festival, no other one brought me sales or recognition and booths are expensive. I now work with a team of authors, and we share the booths and expenses.
- I signed and paid money for consignment agreements with a few bookstores across the country. It really didn’t work out. If a bookstore orders your book, and puts it on the shelf, it is good. Most bookstores have Ingram account and if you publish and distribute your book through Ingram Spark, they can buy it 55% off. (You need to set it at 55% discount and returnable for bookstores)
- I spend $200 on distributing a press release one month before the release date. Press release distribution does not really work for indie books with unknown authors.
- Do not take the number of likes on social media personally. It is all business and algorithms. Post regularly. Post about your book, news about your book, and other useful or encouraging contents readers like to see. On Instagram and Twitter take advantage of popular and related hashtags to get more followers. It will build up slowly and organically.
- I didn’t try hard enough to publish an excerpt from my memoir or a related article in a literary magazine or a literary forum. Give yourself plenty of time after your manuscript is ready and before you publish.
I will be glad to provide details about my journey. Shoot your questions my way 😊
Let’s share our stories,
My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl by Shabnam Curtis is not the first story to be shared, and will not be the last, but there is a need for more stories to show the different pieces of this complex puzzle called humanity. Sharing her story, Shabnam aimed to contribute to and enrich the diversity of voices. When we share stories and know each other on a more profound level, we feel the authentic human connection, we create empathy, we sense a true belonging. True belonging is to be part of something while we keep our identity and accept ourselves and others for who we are. Fitting in is hiding some aspects of our personalities, something emotionally painful. It kills our self-worth and makes us a victim. Belonging creates self-worth and freedom. Belonging and authentic connections are basic human needs.
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A Short Story
When I went to pick up Maman so we could food-shop for my book launch party, she climbed into the car wearing her usual beautiful smile. I said Hi, and when she did not reply, I glanced at her. Her lips shivered, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She said she had been up until 2:30 a.m., reading the first half of my book, a memoir. Since the book is in English and her best language is Farsi, it was a chore she had managed with a dictionary. “You made a monster of me,” she said brokenly. “Was I that bad when you were a teenager?”
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In the rooftop bar of Eaton DC, skeptical of attending a religious event, I didn’t know what to expect. When Nafisa Isa enthusiastically started introducing the program, people cheered and hollered. Sitting in the second row, I turned back to see the people cheering, and saw more than 100 people mostly with dark hair and olive skin, like me. All the chairs were filled and people were standing by the bar.
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What a powerful piece! So beautiful “Giving voice to those secrets takes away their power. Am I afraid to stand in that light, to take on that power and claim it as my own?”
By Diane Gottlieb
An essay I wrote was just published last week. It was my third publication, the first that will appear both online and in print. You’d think I’d be thrilled.
Part of me was. I had worked this shorty (432 words) for about two years, off and on. I’m proud of it. It’s tight. Honest. And it’s … personal. Very, very personal.
That’s the part that’s got me.
I’m fifty-eight years old, and while I’ve come to writing late, I’ve brought with me many rich stories. I’ve led a full life, with lots of joy and a fair amount of pain, neither of which I’ve ever been shy about sharing. Yet, seeing this particular piece, all 432 words of it, triggered me in a way I hadn’t expected. I felt naked. Exposed. I felt shame.
Why is it so hard to tell our stories? I take that back…
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(1500 words – 10 minutes read)
An indie author has to wear a lot of different hats. One of the most difficult ones for me is playing the role of the publicist. It is a new paradigm, with a steep learning curve, and little room to make mistakes. Why? 1) It’s A LOT of work that consumes time and money. 2) A mistake can harm my infant reputation. Ok, I don’t want to scare anyone. If I am doing it, everyone else can do it. It’s a slow progress that needs a lot of devotion and resilience, especially when hopelessness wants to take a major role. 😊
Let me share Shabnam’s story as a publicist and what she has done so far. In short, publicity is all about connecting to other people.
- Website: I built my website through wix.com. They make it easy and fun to create your website. I searched and watched a couple of YouTube videos that helped me to learn tricks. It is a simple website and I will update the pages as I learn more and have more events.
- Social Media: Overall my understanding of social media for an indie aspiring author is to build up a platform over time and be patient with it. It certainly does not create sales even with more than 1000 followers. Of all possibilities for social media, I have Twitter and Facebook, Goodreads, and recently created a business account in Instagram.
- In Twitter, when you find the right group, mainly other writers through #writingcommunity, it starts rolling. I started with almost 10 followers in summer 2018, I have over 1400 followers now. One of the rules of thumb is following other writers and attend a couple of discussions every now and then. It still does not give me a large number of impressions on my tweets but I count it as a good steady progress. The bright point was that I got two author interviews by attending discussions in twitter. They are available in my website.
- In Facebook, I focus on writing groups that I have joined. Facebook algorithm is tricky and I heard only 2% of the people in your network get to see your posts. I notice out of 3500 people in my network, I only get to see posts from mostly 100 people in my newsfeed. I did not see the value in publishing an author page in Facebook and made my main account public. Facebook is mostly to keep up with the news from other writer fellows who are in FB only.
- Goodreads was one of the tools I started playing with a few months before publishing the book. In order to request and get approval for an author page, you need to provide a publishing date. If that date changes later, you can update it. One mistake I made; I loaded the cover page that was not final. It seems I cannot change it after the first download. If I figure it out, I will mention it in later posts. I am still learning how to use Goodreads as a tool for book promotion. I have connected with more than 1500 people and ran a Giveaway (for $119) one month before my book was published. I gave away 50 kindle version and got one review out of that. Overall I have more 20 reviews and ratings. Of about 30 people I asked through Goodreads to review the book (Offered a free copy – separate than giveaway), I was lucky and got about 10 reviews. It made sense to pursue people who have reviewed similar books to mine. I hear this method works in Amazon for requesting reviews too but I have not practiced it.
- Instagram is so far my favorite tool among all in social media apps. I opened a business account (free). The best part is people can follow hashtags and therefore using the relevant hashtags# bring great visibility to each post. This helps to get more followers and likes. You can use up to 30 #s in each post. There are also many book reviewers that I reached out and a few accepted to review my book. And following #bookstagaram & #bookstagramer give great visibility to what everyone else is up to with more possibility of finding events.
- I have noticed some bookstores ask for social media accounts to check the level of my posts’ impressions which could be used against me, since I am still learning and haven’t created a huge platform but that’s only for popular bookstores. This part of the game takes a longer time and aspiring authors need to be consistent and patient with it.
- Listening to Joanna Penn podcast with Frances Caballo, I learned it is better if we plan our posts for each week. Sundays could be for #authorlife posts, Mondays for a cheer-up post, Tuesdays could be a post on my upcoming book, Wednesdays a #bookbuzz for #bookpromotion and so on. I’ll try this scheduling strategy and will share my experience.
- Press Release: I sent out a press release (paid) one month before publishing the book, but got no contact/return out of it. Publishing a book by an unknown author is not news-worthy. I don’t recommend paid press-release. However, you need to prepare a press release to send it to book reviewers and radio and TV interview requests.
- Reviews: I decided to get a couple of professional paid reviews to begin with. I chose The Midwest Reviews and City Reviews. Then I reached out to major book reviewers.
- I received a constructive review from The Midwest Review within two weeks. The review was also published on their website in March 2019 right before my publishing date.
- City Reviews took more than two months. Their review included negative words. I didn’t take it. I accepted to exchange it with a month of advertising in their website but nothing came out of that. I don’t mind constructive feedback and review with *** but negative words and tone of voice in any review is unacceptable.
- I have mailed copies of my book to major reviewers but have not heard anything yet. Major reviewers I have sent my book include Book Reporter, NPR, American Book Reviews, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Nation.
- Lecture Opportunities: I have been contacting colleges to introduce my book and ask professors for a book review. I also offer a lecture in case they find the book a related subject for their department. I pursue Psychology, Sociology, and Women and Gender study departments, related to the theme of my memoir. So far two schools have accepted me to give lectures in Fall and three professors have accepted to review my book.
- Pitching to Journalists: I tried the free version of Help a Reporter It is a lot of work to check all the subjects they send out three times per day and then pitch on the ones related to my book. I gave up on that, trying to find a better way.
- Reading Events: I have had luck contacting the reading events in the Washington D.C. area and that gave me visibility and encouragement. I am also capturing opportunities on open mic events.
- Bookstores: Contacting bookstores is complicated and a different experience. I will try to write a blog only for this one. I have one bookstore reading event (I didn’t have to pay) scheduled in June and had a book signing event in another bookstore that gave me some visibility.
- Author Interviews: I have started making a list of radios, podcasts, and TVs to request interviews. I have gotten three radio interviews so far through writing community. I am going to start with local radios.
- Submissions: One literary magazine has accepted one of my essays so far but I keep submitting personal essays to different literary magazines. Submittable is a great tool to find out about submission opportunities. To me this is a necessary part of author’s life to remain connected with the literary world.
- Book Festivals and conferences: Attending different book events such as book festivals, author appearances, and book readings help growing my network. I had a booth in Gaithersburg Book Festival in May-2019 which was a great success as far as expanding my community and selling books. I am now looking forward to attending Baltimore Book Festival in November. I am searching for other related festival and conferences to attend. Here is a list of Book Festivals in the U.S.
- Last but not least, reach out to friends and family members for their connection and build your network through that. Attend different events. It is a lot of work with slow response but please do not give up. Do as much as you can frequently. Build your author career through the cause and purpose your book offers. We are all in this together, step by step moving forward!
I hope this information helps. I’ll share more as I learn more. Until later…
Let’s share our stories,
Developing Emotional Connection by Writing My Memoir
Every time my American friends heard a piece of my memory, they showed more empathy towards me as an Iranian-American far from my birthplace, building a new life here in the land of opportunity. We amazingly found many common themes in our lives and they appreciated for what they had not gone through; living under dictatorship, war, and rigid cultural norms.
Three years ago, when I began writing my memoir, all I recognized in me was an urge to share my story.
To learn how to write my memoir, I read other memoirs. Diving into others’ memories deepened my understanding of diversity; Of people’s differences and similarities. It enabled me to walk in others’ shoes rather than judging them. It softened me up. These stories created compassion in my heart not just toward those authors but toward people in general. I was fascinated…
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When I look back, four years ago, I had a comfortable life. Today, I feel fulfilled. My book “My Persian Paradox” is released. It is now time to work on sharing this story with others. Maintaining a fulfilling life needs continues move full of actions. I am learning how to reach out to my readers. I will not stop doing it as each reader is a new gift in my life to teach me more, to bring more depth to my life (regardless of their positive or negative opinion about this book). A dear friend said, “Shabnam, this is the beginning of a new path for you.” It indeed is!
Let’s celebrate life!