Sunday, May 17, 2015

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a fan of Marquez, and magic realism in general, but this one didn't have the same pull as some of his other works. I loved the first bit; I love the ending, but the middle was kind of...meh. I got the sense that Marquez had to write SOMETHING to keep the plot going, but it all seemed more like a vehicle to get to the (amazing) ending.

[Some spoilers ahead]

The thing I liked best about the first couple chapters was the "ah-ha" moment when you realize the book is not about Dr. Urbino Juvenal. Marquez makes a masterful twist at the end of chapter one when our supposed protagonist dies and the story wildly changes perspectives. He had me there; he lost me shortly after that.

The reason? It's tedious to describe what someone does with their life for 50 years, no matter how artful the writing. In this case, Marquez describes two lives--that of the illustrious Fermina Daza and that of the hopelessly romantic FLorentino Ariza. In their youth, they had something like a romance (although it mostly involved writing an excessive number of love letters to one another), but Ms. Daza eventually rejected Ariza and made a sensible marriage to Dr. Urbino Juvenal. What follows, is a tedious catalogue of both Daza's life and Ariza's--their tiny adventures, his multiple lovers (they all blend together for me), her little trips to Europe. By the time the book caught up to Dr. Urbino's death, the only thing I could think was, "Finally! Now we can move forward with the plot).

The ending is the big pay-off of this book. If you stick with it, it's worth it (or you could just read the first 50 pages and the last). The ending beautifully and tragically describes elderly love--the smells, the feel, the objections from younger generations, the realization that one's body doesn't behave like it once did. It's a moving portrayal of two young souls in elderly bodies. THIS is the story to me. THIS is where Marquez' writing comes alive. If only it hadn't taken 300 pages to get there.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Double Book Release Challenge #3: Book Release Party

Last Sunday, I released both my novel (Ten Thousand Lines) and my children's book (¿Cómo se Llama tu Llama?) into the world. It's a scary thing--letting others' eyes see your work, letting your naked heart beat outside your body. You open yourself up to critique and criticism, boredom and indifference. But you also open yourself up to the possibility that your words will resonant with some people, that you will cause them to pause and think about the world in a different way.

Kate Leibfried Como Se Llama Tu Llama
My favorite part about this photo collage is Pat Benatar looking over my shoulder...

So, how to give your words the pomp and circumstance they deserve? Throw a party.

A book release party is not only essential for garnering interest and making sales, it can also be fun and amazingly gratifying. Last week, I was truly humbled as nearly 100 of my friends and acquaintances showed up to support my work. At times, the sheer volume of people was overwhelming and my hand cramped up from signing my books so many times.

How can YOU make your book release party a success? Here are a few tips:

Your network is of utmost importance here and you shouldn't leave anyone out. Invite your friends, Facebook acquaintances, co-workers, members of your writing groups. I even invited my hair stylist because, hey, why not?
Create an event on Facebook and one on GoodReads and invite your entire contact list. You just never know who is going to show up.
I also created little flyers (4 to a standard sheet of paper) and passed them out to my network.

How do you get such a fabulous network in the first place? It doesn't happen overnight. Join a few writing or community action groups (but don't do this disingenuously. If you're not interested in what you're doing, people can tell) and be an active member in them. But the true key to gaining support for your work is to SUPPORT OTHERS! Buy others' books, attend friends' concerts, help co-workers move. In sum: Be a good person and a reliable friend, and others will come through for you. This is how the world goes round.

Choose a great venue
Chatterbox Kate Bitters Book release
Your guests will want some food, beverages, and entertainment. They'll want a space to relax and enjoy others' company. I chose the Chatterbox Pub in S. Minneapolis. They have a wonderful back room (which they were willing to reserve for the party), a great menu, beer and wine, and board games. Plus, their staff was endlessly enthusiastic and supportive. Win!

Create a take-away
I think of a "take-away" as not just a party favor, but something meaningful that your guests can take home with them. I created a bookmark with my book on one side and a list of "10 Ways to Help an Author" on the other. It's a fun memento that also provides a little insight into what actions best help indie authors.
You could also give out personalized pens, magnets, or copies of poems you've written. Keep it simple and don't spend too much.

Do some readings
Readings help connect the audience with your story and provide some conversation fodder. Aim for a 2-3 minute segment that is A) interesting and intriguing and B) doesn't give away major plot points. During a four hour stretch, I did three readings and that seemed about right. When you do your readings, don't forget to say THANK YOU to everyone who showed up.

Station yourself in one spot
It's just easier. If you flit around, you'll tire yourself out and you might accidentally skip over someone. If someone wants to talk to you, let them approach you. And (of course) keep a stack of books by your side.

Other Tips
Here are some tidbits I've learned:
-Wednesdays and Sundays are the best days for book launch parties (Not sure why, but that's what I've read.)
-Background music helps (I have a friend who plays acoustic guitar and she added to the nice, relaxed ambiance).
-Enlist the help of a friend or significant other to help with payments (It's hard to sign a book, keep up a conversation, and take a payment at the same time. My wonderful partner, Eric, ran credit cards as I chatted with friends).
-Use Square (about 50% of sales were by credit card. Square is essential).
-Say thank you. Let everyone know how much they mean to you
-Take a deep breath! Your book launch party will fly by; make sure you take the time to enjoy it.

Good luck, have fun, and keep writing.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Double Book Release CHALLENGE #2: Websites & Profiles

I have a lot of websites.

I have one for my pen name (under which I write novels), one for my actual name (for freelance work and children's books), one for my novel Elmer Left, and one for my novel Ten Thousand Lines. On top of that, I have various profiles associated with my writing:
If you felt exhausted just reading that list, imagine keeping up with it all! But the thing is, you don't have much of a choice. Given the demand for up-to-date, of-the-moment information (just think about how often Wikipedia pages are updated), people expect your social media platforms and websites to be current.

I've slogged through it on my own--updating things at random whenever they popped into my mind--but, there's a better way. Make a list [once] and refer back to it whenever you have any major changes you'd like to advertise across world wide web channels.

I've already done the heavy lifting and I'm here to help you with that list...

First, gather these materials:

  • Thumbnail of book cover
  • Larger image of book cover
  • Updated bio (with new info about your latest work)
  • Updated photograph (it's always good to refresh your photo every couple of years)
  • Link to your personal website
  • Link to the marketplace (site where someone can purchase a book)

Then, add to/enhance these sites*:
  • Personal website: Home Page** (May want to include an Amazon widget for selling book)
  • Personal website: About Page**
  • GoodReads: Author Page Profile** (If you don't have one, apply! It's easy)
  • GoodReads: Personal Profile
  • GoodReads: Add your book to GoodReads
  • Amazon: Author Central Profile
  • Twitter: Bio
  • Facebook: Personal bio
  • Facebook: Author Page bio**
  • LinkedIn: Bio**
  • Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, etc: Bio
  • Blog: Bio and add images of your new book**

*This probably goes without saying, but you should always include a link to your book's "for sale" page in each bio you write.
**Include links to both your paper copy and your eBook

Other things to think about:

  • Updating your email signature to include something about your new book
  • Creating a book release party event through Facebook and GoodReads
  • Letting your writing groups know you're launching a new book
  • Updating your event page to include your book launch party
Are you exhausted yet? Good thing you have this handy checklist, eh? Best of luck with updating all your infrastructure. It will all be worth it in the end!

Happy writing,

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Double Book Release Challenge #1: Social Media

Recently, I announced the release of two books on the same day. One is a novel, written under my pen name. The other, a children's book, written under my actual name. I anticipated some challenges, but several things caught me off guard. For instance, the sheer amount of time I would devote to social media.

Now, I'm NOT a novice when it comes to social media. In addition to freelance writing, I also do a fair bit of social media marketing for my clients, across several different platforms, using all the handy social media scheduling tools and best practices I've learned from hours of research. Great. However, it's a totally different ball game when you're self promoting.

When I tweet or post something for a client, I usually toss it into the interwebs and see what sticks. I sometimes reply to others' comments or questions, but mostly leave that duty in the capable hands of my clients (we want some authentic interaction, right?). However, when I began promoting my own stuff this past week, I felt obligated to reply to (or at least "Like") every comment someone left about my books. Not only that, I was so overwhelmed with the giddy joy that people were coming out of the woodwork to support my accomplishment, that I spent hours checking my Facebook page, seeing if I had any new Likes or comments. I couldn't help it. My post reached the levels of "I just had a baby" status and I swelled with pride.

But, I was distracted. I wasted time checking on the progress of one particular post, when I should have been updating my GoodReads profile, scheduling tweets, and working on book launch party preparations. So yes, it was fun to be the star of my social media network for a while, but I wallowed a little too much in my own success. Time to move on, Kate! You've got shit to do.

Of course, social media marketing is essential for the modern writer to reach any kind of audience outside of his/her friends and family. With that in mind, my main piece of advice is this: remember your audience. Think about them before you think about yourself. There are only so many times you can say, "Hey, my novel is done!" before it gets as stale as the cereal that falls between the bag and the box (for some reason I always think it's a good idea to try those trapped cereal flakes when the box is empty. Maybe that's the whole lesson, isn't it? Ignore the stale flakes and focus on the fresh stuff!)

In short, it's been a challenge for me to:
 A) Keep up with social media demands (I currently use 7 platforms...just typing that makes me feel exhausted)
B) Remember my social media best practices (I'm dwelling too much on certain posts and completely neglecting other platforms)
C) Simultaneously promote two books at the same time

The next challenge? Updating 3 websites and the various profiles I have on GoodReads, Amazon Author Central, etc. In my next post, I'll include a checklist to help you update your website and profiles when a major change (like a newly published book) occurs.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

One Week, Two Books

It's been an insanely busy couple of months for me and, sadly, I've been neglecting my blog. At least I have a good excuse for my absence: I released not one, but TWO books this week. Whew! It's been a ride. Book One is the dystopian novel I've been working on for about four years now, entitled Ten Thousand Lines.  Book Two is a children's book written in Spanish, entitled ¿Cómo se Llama Tu Llama? (What is the name of your llama).

Over the next few weeks, I intend to write about what it's like to finish two books simultaneously (this is actually the second time I've done this, in a way. In spring 2013, I finished writing Ten Thousand Lines in the same month I finished ghost writing a book for a client). I'll also share some insight on marketing, important links to put on your website, and planning a great book release party. If you have any questions about my publishing choices or how on earth I pulled off finishing two books at the same time (in addition to working multiple freelance writing jobs), just ask!

Stay tuned and check out my websites for Ten Thousand Lines and ¿Cómo se Llama Tu Llama?

Happy writing!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How Haley Bonar Fixed My Perfectly Horrible Day

I've been busy blogging for the Ordway's grand re-opening and haven't spent much time here. However, I thought I'd pass along one of my recent posts about indie rocker/folk-influenced Haley Bonar. Enjoy...

We’re nearing the end of the Rock the Ordway and, for people like me who have been involved in some way in nearly every single performance (you know who you are!), fatigue is setting in. Twenty-two days of opening nights sounds glamorous at first, but after a while it sinks in that you haven’t eaten dinner at home in…how long? And you haven’t gone to bed before 1 a.m. in…how many days?

Today I was feeling rather lackluster, even though I’d been looking forward to Haley Bonar for weeks. Of the entire Rock the Ordway lineup, she was the musician I knew best. But, a lackluster mood can sneak up on the best of us, and that’s how I was feeling before I broke my toe...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Walk in the Woods (Not endorsed by Bill Bryson)

Winter Hiking, Afton State Park, MN

(A free write. Please excuse any errors.)

My body was stretched out and chopped up. It was distributed across the city, tugged this way, that way by scores of different hands. They all clawed at it, the hands. They all wanted something from it. The pressure rose; I could feel my sinews snapping.

So I left.

I gave my body a whistle and it came running back to me, gratefully. We took off into the woods.

I took my quietest companion and, together, we drove eastward. As the buildings thinned and the roads narrowed, I felt my stretched sinews relax; I felt my muscles ease. They could already sense the woods rising around us, the calm replacing the tugging.

At the park, I leashed my companion and we giddily took off down the trail, running. Sprinting (as best we could through the packed snow). If anyone would have seen us, they might have questioned our sanity--well, not my companion's, I suppose, but certainly mine. My face couldn't help but grin; my feet couldn't help but run.

After running, we walked. And I breathed. The air wasn't the kind of cold that pierces your lungs and makes you choke-cough. It was just the right kind of cold--the kind that electrifies your pulmonary system, makes you understand the meaning of the word invigorated. We walked through the friendly cold, through prairies and mixed forests, along the banks of the St. Croix, down valleys, across bridges, up steep slopes. We walked for eight miles that afternoon...

...and saw one person.

She was looking down when we rounded the bend, adjusting a strap on a hiking pole, and I said, "Hello. You're the first person we've seen in five miles."

She was startled, but not much. My voice was calm and soft--the voice of someone sedated by bliss.

She nodded to me; she had a nice smile and pleasantly chapped lips. Her cheeks were pink and happy; she wore a floppy kind of hat that didn't quite fit her head, but suited her perfectly. We talked for a minute about one stream flowing, one stream frozen. Then we moved on.

My companion was not interested in small talk; there were mammals to trail.

We continued our trek, winding across a couple streams--one frozen over, one not--and caught our first glimpse of humanity as we crested a peak and glimpsed a road below. A couple cars passed by and I was angry at them for a second, but only a second. We ducked back into the woods.

As we hiked, I noticed a set of tracks pointing toward us, framed by punctures in the snow. They were the woman's tracks. The woman and her hiking poles. We walked west; the tracks continued east. We were time-traveling then--walking into the woman's past as she walked into ours.  With every step, we peeled back her journey, striding through ever-earlier minutes, older emotions, distant thoughts. And she was picking her way through our past.

After nearly three hours, we starting making our way toward the car. With less than a mile to go, the trail abruptly opened up, dozens of voices bombarded our calm. We glanced to the side as we shuffled past. It was a ski hill. The gondola motors chugged as children giggled and snowboarders yelled at skiers to get the hell out of the way. Fried food scent drifted from the chalet; marijuana smoke drifted from the hills. It was a jarring way to step back into civilization, a carnival passing through a meditation room.

We hurried past, but the spell was broken. We knew we had to exit the woods soon. We couldn't stay, as much as we wanted to. The woods would only let us visit and take a piece of it back with us.

We took as much as we could carry--stuffing our bodies with the tranquility, the harmony, the balance, the clarity, the rawness that the woods offered--and brought it back with us to the city. It lingers still, but it fades, slipping out of pores, floating away with each exhalation. I feel the tenseness in my muscles creep back; I feel the first few tugs on my body. The tugs are soft, for now--the nibbles of a fish testing out bait before she takes the whole thing in her mouth and darts away--but they will grow. They will intensify.

And I will escape again, into the woods, into a place that always makes sense to me. And maybe the woman will be there again. And we can talk about the quality of streams.

Hiking in Afton State Park, MN