Releasing a new book is an incredibly thrilling professional achievement in the life of a writer. A combination of personal excitement and contractual obligation lead us to dropping the name of our new book (40 Thieves on Saipan) on social media for months.
40 Thieves on Saipan, the story of an elite WWII Marine Scout-Sniper platoon in one of the Pacific Theater’s bloodiest battles, released June 2. In the midst of a pandemic and deep racial protests, the book launch may be one drop of water in the thousands of gallons going over my home area’s Minnehaha Falls. But that drop is important to co-author Joseph Tachovsky, me and the families and friends of the 40 Thieves platoon.
U.S. citizens within the armed forces sacrifice their lives each year in the name of freedom. In WWII young men were required to serve with limited ability to choose a branch of the services.
Eleanor Roosevelt said “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps.”
Few women authors write war battle books. Before I became a novelist, I was a journalist. From reading transcripts of the surviving Thieves platoon. to digging into Marine leaders’ diaries. to researching battle details, this book was a deep lesson in war and its most disposable asset, those who wear uniforms. In its stark truth, 40 Thieves on Saipan becomes an anti-war message. For any prospective military recruit, their parent, sweetheart or spouse, child, or friend, this book cuts through the advertising to the reality of carrying a weapon in war and adjusting to life back in the states later.
I’ll head back to other blog topics in the near future, but now my pride in 40 Thieves on Saipan is like any new parent. The book is available through Amazon, B&N online, BAM, and in bookstores. Joseph and I will be contributing part of our net royalties to specific nonprofit groups serving US vets.
Adriana introduced the Shim Sham Shimmy to our class at Dancin’ on the Door studio while I was away. A fellow dancer found floor space to bust a move from the recent lesson as she waited tables at the restaurant where we had dinner. I was nervous about matching the speed of her steps.
On the fourth day of air so heavy even the dog didn’t want to be outside, ninety minutes of highly physical activity in a lightly air-conditioned building held minimal attraction. The alternative was continuing to reconstruct a really good short story that fell apart during revision.
I knew I shouldn’t leave my computer or walk away from the three “finished” versions of the story. Guilt nicked the happiness of seeing my dancer friends. Lack of focus knocked me off rhythm during our first warm-up. Yet all the stretches, the delightful readjustment of a tense neck, easing of raised shoulders, the disappearance of leg cramps and curled toes shut the door on my rabbit hole of writing doubts. Here was music, movement, and the camaraderie of seven women working our bodies and minds.
The classic Shim Sham Shimmy, a 32 bar sequence of choreography, began roughly ninety years ago in Harlem music clubs. We built on stamps, steps, shaking shoulders, Tack Annie’s, freezes and breaks. After walking through steps to moving with a gentle tempo, we laughed together during a glorious attempt at dancing the shimmy to Beyoncé. Most of us are far beyond twenty, but that made no difference. Not one of us looked in the mirrors as our feet made music. If anything ached in the morning, I wouldn’t care.
On the way home from class I knew I had to shake the wounded story back to its original structure and concentrate on language. It is a story built for readers’ pleasure—a classical structure with good vibrations and defined direction. Worked carefully, the story will move slowly until it needs to move fast.
That’s the second reward for staying with the awkwardness of learning something new and creative instead of pushing paragraphs around and around another full day. Step it out of the comfort zone, sister.
A contract sat on the corner of my desk for weeks. My publisher, Calumet Editions, is asking to formalize their social media-marketing program that is Twitter centered. I balked.
Calumet Editions is a small press run by two lovely people I have known for many, many years. I trust these guys. The High Cost of Flowers won two Midwest Book Awards. The book is selling about as well as any release without a publicity machine. Having published four books with a traditional small publisher depending on old school face-to-face marketing, I remain perplexed about how to successfully market books in today’s market.
Before Calumet, I had fun with my 300+ Twitter followers. I knew many of them. We high-fived each other’s achievements and exchanged pithy comments. I followed major authors and agents who would never follow me. I wasn’t hungry for a Klout ranking, but more like a kid with a lot of pen pals writing very short letters.
Fast forward. With over 90,000 followers, Calumet’s algorithms now drop people who don’t follow me or are inactive for a week. Many of my writing friends and book club followers dropped me because of Calumet advertising blocked out spontaneous connections.
@c_kraack is now truly a brand. One that Calumet has built. At any moment someone in the world could be reading a tweet from @c_kraack that I generated or Calumet generated. Some of those people buy books. From what I read about social media marketing, Twitter has a conversion rate around one percent. The expert advice is accurate that one social media outlet does not equal a marketing plan.
Where is small press marketing sweet spot? I am an author trying to read the trade publications and blogs, but I am not a marketer. I am a writer working to be discovered by readers. I’ll share what I find through a series of blogs.
Next up: Matching book buyers to social media usage.
For most of my adult life packing a suitcase, briefcase and computer bag for a business trip would be called work. So why is it easier to characterize packing a suitcase, briefcase and computer bag to go work on an unfinished novel a writing retreat?
There are obvious differences: This is my schedule and my decision. There will be no paycheck arriving while I am away. Except for revisions on a different manuscript sent to my publisher on the second day and a few meetings, no one is waiting somewhere for this piece of work.
The real issue may be that in American culture there is discomfort sharing the label of work with purely artistic efforts. If I were completing scripts for a client’s videos, others would say I went away to concentrate on a work project. If I planned to develop new curriculum for a college course that would be understandable. But to the majority of Americans who work regular hours doing tasks people recognize, finishing a novel that might not find a publisher or be published is different. In fact,it is necessary time away to catch up on work that has become increasingly more disorganized while satisfying other demands. Some might say it is a bit indulgent. More a retreat than a work trip.
It’s all semantics. Embracing the retreat concept, I’m building in time to read, visit with other writers, take walks, and get some extra rest. I’ll miss the daily presence of family and friends, a few social events, the convenience of my regular home and routine. Unlike vacation time, I have an assignment to return home with a three hundred page manuscript ready to market to agents and publishers. And that sounds like work. Work I’m thrilled to have this time to complete.