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JUN
22

Selling Books: Indie Stores vs. Online Distributors


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It's an interesting thing, selling a book. Especially when you 1) have never sold one before and 2) are a relative nobody. Actually, there's nothing relative about it. To anyone but my friends and family (who have for the most part already bought copies), I am a nobody. And when was the last time you bought a book just because someone told you their friend/sister/cousin/former roommate wrote it? For that matter, when was the last time you went into a bookstore and bought a book by an author you've never heard of just because the book looked interesting? I pretty much never do this. Case in point: This past weekend I was at a darling indie store and went to my favorite section, the biographies. I honed in on a very buzzed-about memoir that I've been meaning to buy and went ahead and bought it. And seeing my little book sitting next to all the buzz books made me both delighted and depressed. I mean, it's amazing to see your own book on the shelves. But next to all those buzzed-about books, who would ever buy mine?

When it comes to getting my book into stores, I've definitely made a few blunders. Part of this is my own newness to the world of publishing, and part of it is the divide that has been created because of mammoths like Amazon. It has been off-putting to some independent bookstores that so much (read: all) of my book marketing directs people to Amazon and B&N. I got an email from a bookstore just this week asking why I was directing independent stores to a website (mine) with links to Amazon and B&N on it. I will tell you that the email brought me to tears just because I felt so foolish. But I will also tell you that there is not a book in her store that isn't also available on Amazon and B&N. This is just the world we live in. And especially as a nobody whose book is not available in many stores yet, I simply have to have a presence among online distributors. That said, I never want it to appear like I'm insensitive to the negative impact that Amazon has had on the world of independent bookstores. Because I am a hard-core independent bookstore fan. I always prefer purchasing from a brick and mortar store, supporting local business, and holding a physical book in my hands. Always. So in recognition of indies everywhere, I'd like to give a shout out to a few of the stores who added my book to their shelves this week: Fireside Books in Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Sunflower Books in La Grande, Oregon; and St. Johns Booksellers in Portland, Oregon. Many thanks for all you do.

JUN
10

The Basketball Work Party

I recently switched departments at the office, and my new crew had just completed a project when I joined them. Based on selling a particular product line, the whole project was basketball themed, including weekly "MVPs" and "free throws" awarded to those individuals and teams who sold the most. I was immensely glad I hadn't actually been around to participate in the project when it was announced at the celebration/report-out (an afternoon and evening of games and food at a local park) that the teams would be shooting literal free-throws as a way to determine the ultimate project champions. Thank goodness I don't have to shoot is what I was thinking as we headed over to the basketball courts.

But one of the annoying things about Corporate America is this blasted emphasis on teamwork and team-building activities. I'm not saying we should be sequestered loners at work, but as an introverted person, I have it on good authority (so does Susan Cain) that you can get a lot more accomplished on your own than you can by participating in a mass brainstorming session. Yet, I digress. What this meant to my work posse that day on the court was that it was simply not OK that I was not on a team for this final shoot-out. How awful for Tali to be left out! Get Tali shooting the ball! Let Tali warm up!

I tried to gently explain to these people not only that I was perfectly fine not shooting and didn't feel left out at all, but also that me and basketball didn't have the greatest of relationships. "Have you read my book?" I asked the group, and those that had immediately began laughing at being reminded of my rather disastrous junior high try-outs. Let me emphasize that in this moment, about to shoot a slew of free-throws in front of tons of people, I had no amount of confidence that even one shot would be close enough to hit the rim. And the narration from one of my co-workers didn't help either, although it was in hindsight rather amusing. "Here she is, after a 17-year absence," the co-worker said quietly, sportscaster style, as I stepped up to the line. "For the first time since seventh grade. Tali Nay at the line." Or maybe I heard this all in my head.

Either way, I made a shot. Then I made another one. I managed to get our team tied with the team who was at that point in first place. "One more and your team takes the lead," the man keeping score said. My next shot went in, and everyone cheered. It's silly how glorious this moment was for me, although I did have to deal with several co-workers who wondered why I had initially protested when clearly my shooting abilities seemed intact. Of course, shooting was never my problem, so I could only repeat, "Have you read my book?" It should probably be required reading for anyone who knows me.

JUN
02

June 2, 1997

Today is the 15th anniversary of the day I wrecked my parents' new car. It's all in the book, so skip to about page 60 if you haven't gotten there yet, and sometimes I wonder why I even put it in there. It remains the most traumatic thing I've ever been through. Not because of the event itself, I mean, people wreck cars every day, but because of my status in life at that point in time. I was fifteen, was just finishing my first year of high school, and (as always) I was very aware of anything that could affect the way my peers perceived me. So showing up at school with a disgustingly bashed-in face and armed merely with the explanation that I had driven my car into a ditch didn't exactly help improve my image among the in-crowd.

But the good thing about growing up and becoming an adult is that perspective kicks in and things that used to mean everything to you eventually come to mean almost nothing. In short, you get over it. You get over the failures and humiliations and horribly misguided outfits. You get over the friends you never had, the opportunities you never got, and the boys that never liked you. You don't forget, mind you, but you get over it. You get so over it that you may even turn all these experiences into a book and let the whole world in on just how unglamorous your early years were. So, yeah, you get over it. It just might take 15 years.

MAY
26

The Annual Blubbering

This happens to me every year. I become exponentially more sentimental than I already am. I cry at such things as the Glee season finale. I frantically call to mind any memory of times when it was me making life-changing decisions while balancing the excitement and fear that in my case was pretty much just fear. I'm talking about graduation.

While writing Schooled I worried that it might be a downer. Specifically because my graduations were never things I was particularly excited about. The accomplishment, certainly. The cash from relatives, absolutely. But I'm the type of person who becomes comfortable in my environment, particularly when I've really enjoyed the environment and/or thrived there. The thought of post-graduation life always worried me, and graduations were consequently just about the most bittersweet events of my life.

Now that I'm through with my own graduations and have joined the ranks of Real People, I can appreciate them in a way I never did before, and perhaps to make up for that, they tend to make me weep. Which is why I've been in a bit of a tender mood over the past week or two as the universities here in town have held their graduation ceremonies. I love seeing students proud of themselves, I love seeing parents proud of their students, and I love seeing an auditorium full of people who are all momentarily united by this same source of pride. See what I mean? I can't believe I'm even saying this kind of crap, but this is what happens to me. It's kids moving over their tassels. It's teachers wishing their pupils well. It's Rachel Berry on her own in New York City. It's life, and it's changing. Whether you want it to or not. So pardon me if I cry a little. 'Tis the season.

MAY
20

Memoirs I Love

It occurred to me recently that 9 of the last 10 books I've read have been memoirs. Figures. While I can certainly appreciate a well-written novel (I'm just as into things like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as everyone else), my favorite things to read are memoirs. I just love real life, because if the book is good, there's an extra sense of satisfaction in knowing that it really happened. The author really did accomplish this great thing, conquer this pesky demon, learn this poignant lesson, make it through this unimaginable trial, etc. And if the memoir is more entertaining than serious, that's even better. Because that means the author really did make this big a fool of themselves, say this ballsy thing to that other person, get themselves into this hilarious shenanigan, etc.

One of the first memoirs I ever read was 'Tis. This is of course book 2 in the Angela's Ashes series, but I didn't know that at the time. I simply became engrossed in the story of a penniless Irish boy making his way in America. Some time later I read Teacher Man, book 3 in the series, and loved it too. As a sidenote, the teacher memoir is a dynamite idea. Think of all those lessons learned from students. Such a wealth of experiences to draw from there. To any of you teachers out there, please write memoirs so I can read them! Even though Angela's Ashes is actually the first book in the series, I read it last, and actually enjoyed it the least.

Still one of my all-time favorites in the world of memoirs is The Secret Life of Cowboys. Partly because I've always wanted to be a cowboy, or at least marry one, but mostly because it was about boy studying English who decided to scrap it all and become a cowboy. Not because he knew anything about it, but because he wanted to. And if that isn't the most ballsy move to make in life, then I don't know what is. The truth is, I'm jealous. And reading about horses and cattle and land as he learned about life on a ranch (and eventually bought one himself), was as informative as it was wistful.

And even though I only read this one recently, A Girl Named Zippy is one of the most delightfully hilarious memoirs I've read in a long time. Just a collection of stories from her life growing up in a small town, this is the kind of memoir that has you not only laughing out loud at the situations she got herself into, but also secretly wishing your own younger self had been as clever, stubborn, and interesting. A little reminiscent of Ramona Quimby, I could have kept reading several hundred pages more. And isn't that the point? For an author, I think yes. Yes, it is.

MAY
17

For Dad: It's back to Billy

No, I don't have a Father's Day poem from Billy Collins for this post. But I do find it funny that he's making his way into the conversation again. Because today being Father's Day and all, I was reminded of the first thing my dad said to me after he read Schooled. He told me that he wanted to lodge a complaint, or at least go down on the record as saying that I had mis-stated something in the book. I asked what it was, and he brought up the "On Billy Collins" section that directly proceeds my graduation from college. In that section I mention that my parents don't consider his work to be poetry, but that since he was at that time our poet laureate, they lose the argument every time. Dad then insisted (in a surprisingly emphatic manner) that it is I who loses the argument every time, and that his work really isn't poetry unless the very definition of poetry has changed. I do think the definition has morphed over time, but I suppose what I really mean in the book is that I think they lose the argument, just as they are sure that I lose the argument.

No matter, the point of this post is simply that it's Father's Day, and my dad never ceases to crack me up. Why just today I was complaining to him about how much my vet will surely charge for the analysis of my cat's stool sample that he (my vet) is insisting be a part of my cat's check-up next weekend. My dad, himself a vet, said I could always bring some of her poop home with me when I fly out there in a couple of weeks and he would do the analysis for free. We were then in stitches at the thought of cat poop getting through security. Not to mention my neighbors on the plane who would no doubt smell it. What he doesn't realize is I may just be crazy enough to do it. What a story that would make.

MAY
13

Mom

One of the first pieces of feedback I got on this book came from a friend who said something that surprised me. "My favorite character in the book was your Mom," he said. This baffled me. Not because my mom isn't the most angelic person on the planet, but because she's not exactly a main player in the book. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I seemed to remember that she was only even mentioned a handful of times. "Really?" I pushed back. "Yeah, she just comes across as so honest and real," he assured me. And he's not the only person who has commented to me about how well my mom comes out in the book. I guess it's impossible to conceal just how wonderful my mom is.

And on this Mother's Day, I find myself feeling weepy. Not only because my own mother is such a great example to me of goodness, but also because they keep playing that Johnson's Baby commercial ("You're doing okay, Mom") which if you have two X chromosomes is physically impossible to stay dry-eyed through. So in order to get an emotional hold on myself this evening, I'm leaving you with this rather entertaining gem. Not a Mother's Day poem by any means, but one of my BC favorites. Dedicated to my Mom...along with countless lanyards.

MAY
06

Feeding Back

Amusing things that I've heard so far:

"I have four sisters, and I feel after reading your book like I know you better."

"I feel like I've been inside your head for the last 25 years."

"I feel like I'm reading your diary. I'm impressed that you are THAT gutsy. Gutsy enough to publish your diary."

"It feels almost voyeuristic. Like I'm witnessing all these intimate moments. OK, voyeuristic is probably not the right word."

"I can't wait to see who plays me in the movie."

"Are you the next James Joyce or does all that lowercase mean that Amazon screwed up?"

"You bitch. I can't believe you said that about me."

I'm just kidding about that last one, although some of you might be thinking it. I will say that it has been rather eye-opening to put a book out there that talks about real people, many of whom I love and care about. Because while it was important to me to say exactly what I was thinking and feeling and witnessing at the time, it has literally crushed me to learn of a few people's feelings who were hurt by the book. Discussing this topic--the seemingly dark side of being totally honest--with a former college English professor of mine, he reminded me of a passage from Betsy Lerner's A Forest for the Trees:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."

As a sidenote, if anyone is looking for a great book about writing, this one is my favorite. I marked this passage (along with many others) the first time I read through it, which was ten years ago. But as to the passage itself, to me it so perfectly captures the dilemma in which I now find myself, and will probably continue to find myself as I write more memoirs. "Maybe you should stick to fiction," someone told me while discussing this very topic. Which would perhaps be the safer thing to do, and I totally would if my brain could think up a story half as entertaining as real life. Until then, I can only stick to what I know. Hey, it's either this or poetry. So consider yourselves lucky.

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APR
29

The Party Dress

"There is one day even the most cynical New York woman dreams of all her life," Carrie Bradshaw narrates in a classic SATC episode. "It's her book-release party." Of course, unlike Carrie, I'm not a New Yorker, neither do I have a big publishing house to throw me the bash of the century, but I admit I'd been looking forward to my little party for quite some time. It's always nice to be honored at a party, but usually the reasons for the soirees in my life have been things that I accomplished (like turning 1 year older) without really doing anything special. But this party marked the end of something I've been working on for years, something truly worth celebrating, and I couldn't help but think all throughout the party that I was so glad to be on the other side.

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I'm not into designers and labels the way Carrie is, but that said, I did put some thought into my party dress. While in New York last month, I purchased a rather expensive dress on Fifth Avenue, thinking I could wear it to the party. But shortly after I returned home, I received in the mail what I wait anxiously all year for: my birthday coupon from Anthropologie. My style is much more Anthro than Lord & Taylor, so I decided to buy a second dress option and choose between the two. They were both good options, which is why I can't really explain how I ended up going with neither dress and instead found myself digging out the vintage-esque red number that I bought second-hand. I bought this dress ages ago while visiting my sister. I think she was surprised to see it in my hands, not that I could blame her. Because it's the kind of crapshoot purchase you know is either the cutest thing you've ever worn or the ugliest. And last time this happened (the purchase was a pair of capri overalls), I guessed wrong. They were hideous. But I had a feeling about this red dress. All it needed was a hem job (I'll never understand the mid-calf length) and voila:

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Did I look like a Grandma? Possibly. But did I feel totally at ease and comfortable and completely like myself? Absolutely. And for a party that's all about you, it's important to feel good in your own skin. The only thing I really should have worked out beforehand was my signature. I didn't think it would be that hard to come up with lovely little personalized messages on the spot, but let me just tell you, the mind goes blank people. About the best I could come up with was, "Happy Reading!" Seriously? Happy Reading?? I've got to come up with something better than that. I'm a writer, for crying out loud.

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APR
19

Potty Mouth

It's a little entertaining to me that the topic that has many of my early readers all abuzz is the swearing contained in the book. In truth, I don't really swear much (read: at all) in real life. But as a writer I find some sentences just beg for those words. Inserting them effectively into pivotal moments then is either a gift, or it's simply justification at its finest.

My favorite college English professor is reading the book this week, and he sent me a note saying that he--get this--admires the way I use swear words in my writing. "How did you learn to swear so well?" he asked. Since I grew up never actually using these words, I guess you could say it came to me naturally. Like chess to Josh Waitzkin. He further told me that I have great comic timing, use [swear words] intelligently, and that they don't seem gratuitous. Let's just say that compliments on my ability to swear are not among those I ever thought I would be getting.

Another amusing story came from a girl who grew up with me in a neighboring Oregon town. She loved the book, even read bits of the b-school chapters to her husband as he was packing for--get this--the final trip of his MBA degree. She told me she recommended the book to her siblings, but did warn them about the swearing in case that swayed them one way or the other. Not to be deterred, one of her sisters responded, "I want to read Tali Nay's swearing book!" Which is about the most hilarious thing I've ever heard.

True that the book does contain some adult-ish content, so just be prepared. Or maybe read it first if you're the parent of teenagers who want to read it. But I can promise you this: they hear a lot worse in the halls at school. See what I mean? Justification at its finest.

APR
14

Let the Wild Rumpus Start

I'm happy to report that Schooled is officially buy-able! I've included the links just below the cover picture on the right, but you can find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and CreateSpace. I'm still working on getting it up on iTunes, so stay tuned on that one.

As the first few readers have gotten back to me with feedback, it feels sort of like an out of body experience. Or maybe that's not the right way to put it. It just feels like this shouldn't really be happening. The concept of having readers was always so abstract, and now it's almost like, "Wait, what? You're reading my book?" People have told me the book makes them laugh, makes them cry, and makes them remember back to their own memories in school. Which was exactly what I was hoping it would do. One reader told me this week that he stayed up until 2:00 AM reading because he didn't want to put the book down. As an author, that's probably the best thing I could possibly hear. Except maybe, "We'd like to pay you a million dollars to publish your book."

Remember, take this book for what it is...ie. not the Great American Novel. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine. But if you do like the book, the best thing I could ask you to do would be to please tell your friends and families about it. Remember, this is grassroots. Or maybe the best thing I could ask would be for you to put a review up on Amazon. Or maybe it's to contact me offline if you'd be interested in giving away any of my darling marketing postcards. However you choose to proceed after reading the book, I do hope you choose to tell someone else about it. And I hope it inspires you to get out your yearbooks, look up that old crush, and send a note to your favorite elementary school teacher. Unless he/she's dead, in which case you sort of missed your chance. Hey, you could always write a book.

MAR
26

Background on the First Book

I was barely 21 when I graduated from college, and one of my first tasks after graduation (other than finding a job) was to update my personal history (aka journals) with everything I hadn't had time to pen down during those years. Which was pretty much everything. When I finished, I was struck by two things. First, I realized that the majority of my life up to that point had taken place in a classroom. And second, after looking at everything I'd recorded over the course of my life, I was surprised by how little my school musings actually had to do with education. What I remembered and recorded were the teachers (both good and bad), the classmates (both friend and foe), and the emotions associated with growing up (both triumph and failure).

I realized right then and there that much of what I had written could be turned into a book, a collection of vignette-style lessons that we can probably all relate to. Although as a student I was more concerned than most with the concept of popularity, something that never ceased to elude me. In fact, it still does. No matter. The point of all this was simply to introduce the topic of the first book, which from kindergarten through graduate school will tell of the lessons I learned in school that had nothing to do with textbooks.

Of course the interesting thing about memoirs is that you spend a fair amount of time talking about people. And mine will be no exception. While my books are not even slightly vindictive, it's true that not everyone is painted in the best light. It's not that I have it out for anyone, it's that I'm trying to be as honest as I can about how I felt at the time. But seeing as how I'm a nice person, I do sometimes panic at the thought of hurting a few people's feelings. Case in point: I was in New York City this past weekend and had dinner with a guy I went to business school with. Back then he and I got into a tiff one day, and it so affected me at the time that it made it into this book. Over dinner I assured him that the anger reflected in the book was how I felt then, not now. I'm not sure he believes me, but I suppose this is the risk you run when you start publishing your life. What an interesting spring it will be.

MAR
17

Dear Diary

March 14, 2012: The day the proof copy arrived from the printer. It's a pretty amazing feeling to finally see your book in print. But on the other hand, it's tough to not be critical (read: a perfectionist) when it comes to something you've put so much work into. So while it was indeed a triumphant moment to open the package and behold my little book, a part of me went, "That's it? That's it?"

In actuality, the book looks great. A bit larger than your typical paperback, I was able to pick out everything from cover options to fonts to page numbers to spacing. Underlines or no underlines, caps or no caps, acknowledgements in the front or back, the decisions were endless, and my dining room table (almost never used for food) has been covered with pages from various layout options. To give you a frame of reference, it took me over 2 months of back and forth with my book designer to even finalize the layout of chapter 1.

About the only thing that I find noticeably distracting in my printed book is my author picture. I'll be the first to admit that the quality of the photo is not great. But once you see it, you'll understand what I mean when I say that it's a picture that was low quality from the start, and not exactly one that could be re-shot to get better lighting. In any case, if you find yourself doubting whether it's really me, you're just going to have to take my word for it. Or maybe my kindergarten teacher's. She could probably vouch for me too.

MAR
10

You? A Memoir?

It's like this. I'm about to publish my first book. If you're picturing me having been picked up by a big publishing house and being paid a handsome advance for a first run of 20,000 books, let me bring you back down to reality. For starters, this is a memoir. And I'm an ordinary girl with a textbook normal life who's writing about a rather universal topic. The big publishers won't touch this stuff. So the 'getting published project,' a task I've been at for the past 14 months, has largely been me (along with the little team of very talented people I was lucky enough to get put in contact with) just figuring how to get my book out there.

Translation: This is a grassroots effort, and not an easy one, so please understand up front that any shameless promoting of my books on this website isn't because I'm trying to pass myself off as cooler than I am (ie. backed by a big house), but rather because publishing even a small-scale book is a significant accomplishment. And I'm not just talking about the personal satisfaction of having written a book in the first place. I'm talking about the satisfaction of reaching the end of what has been months and months of wading through various decisions and processes and steps, none of which I knew anything about. So when I say this is a significant accomplishment, I hope you know I mean it.

The typical memoir plays on a unique set of circumstances in a person's life. We've all read them. We've all been fascinated by them. People who have been imprisoned, abused, addicted, or held hostage. People who survived the horror of war, the despair of disease, or the injustice of corruption-riddled countries. We're fascinated by these stories because we can’t possibly imagine what such an experience would be like. Then there is the celebrity memoir. We’re fascinated by these stories too, because what we really want to know is what their lives are like outside of the spotlight; what they were really thinking or feeling during a pivotal moment that the whole world saw on TV.

So what could a person like me possibly have to write a memoir about? The answer, of course, is nothing. Not in the conventional sense of the word, anyway. Because I’m not famous, nor have I lived a particularly fascinating life. Yet life is exactly what I found myself scribbling about in my notebook when I actually sat down to write something substantial. Traditional? No. Refreshing? Absolutely. Because the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that there is room in the market for a book like this. A series like this. A series of memoirs that celebrate the universal aspects of life we can all relate to.

And that is my hope for you, reader. That you will read my books and remember the times in your life when you were in similarly humiliating, hilarious, or heart-wrenching moments. That you will be reminded of simpler times, perhaps even better times, and come to more fully appreciate the everyday experiences that make up our lives.

Stay tuned for news on the release of the first book!!


Comments from Blogger

Kat said...I love, love, love this! (March 10, 2012 at 3:08 PM)
Cynthia said...Congratulations - I can only imagine the work involved. Are you going to post an excerpt of your book? (March 12, 2012 at 8:54 AM)

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