by Pamme Boutselis
Midge Raymond’s short-story collection, “Forgetting English,” received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.
Midge taught communication writing at Boston University for six years, and she has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers and Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. While living in Southern California, she held writing workshops and seminars at San Diego Writers, Ink, where she also served as vice president of the board of directors.
Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.
When your first book, a collection of short stories, was published, you faced a variety of challenges when it came to publicizing the book. How did you overcome this?
I just dove in and got to work! All authors need to be prepared to do this, of course, but among my biggest challenges was that my publisher closed its doors soon after “Forgetting English” was released. So I had to scramble to figure out what had been done and what still needed to be done. As one example, I learned that my publisher hadn’t sent out any review copies, so I had to try to get reviews on my own—this was the biggest challenge.
Fortunately I’d been prepared to do a lot of marketing myself anyway—from setting up events to printing my own promotional postcards—so most of the promotion went as I’d expected, with the usual challenges of finding an audience as an unknown author. And after “Forgetting English” went out of print, just a year after it was first published, I was very fortunate to find a new publisher in Press 53, and I had a lot of new opportunities to seek reviews and to do events. The best lesson in all of this for writers is: Always be prepared to do your own marketing. And never give up, even if your book is a year old or two or twenty—it will always be new to some readers out there.
You say today’s author has three roles really—writer, publicist, and director of sales and marketing. Do you think most writers are prepared to assume all three?
In my experience as a writing instructor and the co-founder of a small press, I find that most writers are not at all prepared to do their own sales and marketing. Years ago, they really didn’t have to—but times have changed, not only due to self-publishing but because publishers are doing so much less for authors than they used to. This can be a huge challenge for many writers who prefer to be writing than promoting—but what authors need to realize is that no one is going to talk about their books unless the authors themselves are out there talking about their books.
Self-promotion can be difficult, but I encourage authors to remember how passionate they are about their work and to realize that promotion is something they need to do if they want to reach their audience. Also, authors can try different things and discover what’s most comfortable for them—some authors love to do in-person readings and book tours; others might enjoy social media a bit more. All authors can—and should—submit their books for awards. There are so many ways to reach new readers—you just need to find your comfort zone, and occasionally be willing to stretch past it a bit for the sake of your book.
Which role do you think is the hardest for most writers?
I think it’s hardest for writers to be their own salespeople—it certainly is for me. It’s so difficult to talk up your own work without feeling as though you’re being overly self-promotional, and yet it’s something that must be done—and it has to be done carefully and subtly enough that you don’t turn off the readers you’re trying to hook!
The good news is that there are so many opportunities to reach out to your audience in generous ways that aren’t all about you—authors should always ask themselves what they can do for others when it comes to book promotion. For example, if you do an event at a bookstore or library, you can offer a workshop rather than simply a reading so that the participants get something out of it that goes beyond just hearing you read from your book. You can also do an event with an organization that you like if it’s related to your book and come up with a way that it benefits both the organization and your own book sales. One fun thing to do is to team up with another writer for events, so you’ll be promoting each other rather than just yourself. Any time you can tap into a community to share resources, it benefits everyone—and being generous as a writer always comes back to you in good ways.
How did your book, “Everyday Book Marketing,” come about?
After “Forgetting English” came out for the second time, I began writing blog posts about my marketing experiences, which I thought might be helpful for other writers. Around the same time, I co-founded Ashland Creek Press, and as we began to sign authors, I created marketing materials for them to use once their books were out in the world.
As I continued to market my own work as well as help our authors promote theirs, I saw the need for a book that encompassed all the things authors need to consider when they prepare to publish—and so put all this together in “Everyday Book Marketing.” I also reached out to fellow authors and industry experts, from booksellers to event planners, to see if they’d be willing to share their experiences with new authors. They were all incredibly generous, and the Q&A section of “Everyday Book Marketing” has invaluable tips for authors on everything from self-publishing to taking a good author photo to planning events.
Who will benefit most from the information in your book?
It’s my hope that all authors benefit, from self-published authors to those with contracts with traditional publishers. Because the vast majority of authors—no matter how they publish—need to do his or her own marketing, I think it’s a book that everyone can use. It’s meant to be especially useful for those who need to fit book marketing into a busy schedule; the book offers tips for what you can accomplish, promotion-wise, whether you have two hours a day or ten minutes a day.
What do you struggle with most in your own writing?
Currently my big challenge is creating time and space to write; this is why I wrote my other book for writers, “Everyday Writing”—my life is all about trying to fit everything in to a crazy schedule! And the thing about promotion is that it never really ends—there is always something more you can be doing, so at some point you have to step back from the marketing and devote more time to creating new work. So I’m always working on finding that balance.
What about as a marketer?
As a marketer, I’m far happier promoting other authors’ work than my own, so I love what I do on behalf of our Ashland Creek Press authors. I think all of our books are wonderful and have no trouble showing them off. Doing that with my own work is much more difficult, so for me the challenge is getting out of my comfort zone and consistently reaching out to new reviewers, event planners, etc.
As an editor, what type of writing issues do you regularly encounter in reviewing submissions?
The most common issue we see with Ashland Creek Press submissions is that the material submitted isn’t related to what we publish. Authors really need to do their research before submitting to an editor—it saves everyone a lot of time. For example, we don’t publish children’s books, and it says this clearly on our website, but we still get submissions for children’s books all the time. We also have a specific niche, and so we encourage authors to explore our books and figure out whether their book is going to be a good fit. We have free excerpts of all our books available online, and we really appreciate it when authors take the time to submit thoughtfully.