I recently met Hyla Molander at the Capitol City Writers Conference, where she told me about her memoir, Drop Dead Life, which she is promoting on her own using Scribd. Molander began work on her memoir after the sudden death of her husband at the age of 29.
Hyla has generously answered some of my questions about her experience using Scribd.
Before you posted your memoir on Scribd, tell us about your efforts to traditionally publish your work (assuming that you did?).
Before posting on Scribd only three months ago, I hadn’t considered anything other than traditional publishing as an option for my memoir, Drop Dead Life. If I had focused my attention more on the actual writing of my manuscript, though, rather than the writing of queries to endless literary agents, my book would be ready for print right now.
As it is, I’ve written over 400 pages, but since Drop Dead Life is nonfiction, I’d hoped to get an advance and a publishing house editor to help me as I reshaped the writing into what will be a 280-page manuscript.
Lucky for me, I had a successfully published friend who believed in my writing so much that she suggested her high-profile New York literary agent have a look at it. I was beyond excited. It didn’t even matter that the agent only requested a marketing plan and five-page writing sample.
Several friends helped me with my marketing plan, which is a daunting task to complete if you’ve never put one together before. I know authors who spend weeks just trying to summarize their books in one page.
But the agent turned it away, without any feedback on the writing sample. He did, however, manage to mention that I was not a household name.
That was my first rejection. It probably took another month for me to write anything else again. I’m a mother of four young children—ages 2, 7, 8, and 12—so you can imagine the effort it takes to stay up all night and write, even without the rejections.
Who else has seen it, encouraged it, rejected it, or stomped on it? How much had you revised it?
I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, so I started workshopping bits of Drop Dead Life within a year of Erik’s death, as a way to make meaning out of something unfathomable. From very early on, I hoped to use my journey to inspire authenticity in others.
The feedback I received in three different online workshops helped pull the words out of me, but I wasn’t ready to try to sell my book yet. Life hadn’t given me the ending.
This past February, I went to the Southern California Writer’s Conference in San Diego—a conference I highly recommend for writers. I spent weeks preparing advanced submissions and query letters for the three different literary agents and one editor with whom I scheduled to meet there.
When it came time for my SCWC Advanced Submission Critiques, all three scheduled agents raved about my manuscript, declaring things like “People need to be inspired by stories like yours” or “You’ll be great at speaking engagements” and “Loved the sex and humor.” I returned home to San Francisco with enthusiastic interest from three different agents.
Or so I thought.
Two of the agents did actually help me put together my book proposal, which was extremely helpful, but in the end, each expressed concern over being able to sell the book to publishing houses. Again, not a celebrity. Not a household name.
I will say that I genuinely like each of these agents as women, but the process of getting my hopes up, revising and revising my book proposal, and then thinking it was about to be shopped to publishing houses left me deflated.
Tell us about posting on Scribd. You've said that, in the first week, you got 7,000 new readers. Step us through what you did to accomplish that. What elements were in place before launch?
I started posting short excerpts of Drop Dead Life on my blog about a year ago, in an attempt to grow my readership or “platform,” as the publishing industry calls it, but I had no idea Scribd even existed. Then, three months ago, Tammy Nam, VP of Content and Marketing for Scribd, was the guest speaker at our Writing Mamas Salon at Book Passage.
Tammy explained how we could upload anything onto Scribd as a way to grow our audience, just like we would on our personal blogs. We could choose copyright settings, among many other options, all aimed at making our documents most searchable. She also told us how authors were uploading e-books for sale on Scribd, and keep 80% of the profits.
What intrigued me the most about Scribd, though, was the idea of 50 million readers. My blog certainly wasn’t reaching that many people.
So, the next day, I uploaded an essay, “Grieving Daddy’s Death.” It was as simple as selecting the Word file and clicking “upload.” I classified the piece under Creative Writing/Memoir and added tags such as grieving children and death.
I never actually met Tammy Nam in person, but she was a lovely speaker, and she said to e-mail her if any of us Writing Mamas uploaded on Scribd, so that’s exactly what I did. Then, to my surprise, Tammy responded with news that she wanted to feature my essay, but first wanted me to change the font to 16 point and add a photo on the cover.
Because of Scribd’s “Readcast” function, I was able to thank Scribd for featuring my essay and share the good news with my 2,000 Facebook and Twitter friends all with one click.
The following week, I uploaded the first chapter of Drop Dead Life, and I couldn’t believe the response. In 24 hours, it had been read by 3,000 people. The excerpt was placed on Scribd’s “Rising List,” received all five-star ratings, and many applauding comments that this mama on a mission desperately needed. Within seven days, 7,000 people had read the first chapter of my memoir, and inquiries about where these strangers could purchase the book came rolling in.
In the three months you’ve been experimenting, has there been a learning curve? Have there been any mistakes you’ve learned from?
The past three months have been a whirlwind of exhilarating connections and learning. Most recently, Kathleen Fitzgerald, Scribd Manager of Content and Marketing, asked that I be one of the two authors representing Scribd on the San Francisco Litquake Festival’s “Alternative Forms of Publishing” panel. I had to read the e-mail five times before I was convinced it was actually addressed to me.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with an author who sells his e-book on Scribd, who said he makes more profit using Scribd and other alternative forms of publishing than he ever did with the big publishing houses. These changes in the publishing industry are something I’m keeping my eyes on.
I think the immediate gratification of being able to upload and get responses on our writing is appealing to most people, but I’d warn against posting on Scribd, or even personal blogs, if you can’t handle some critici
sm. My degree is in creative writing, so I’m used to having my words critiqued, but there are days when even the hint of negativity in a comment can throw me off.
Of course, I try to use those temporary feelings of worthlessness in future writing pieces.
What is the best marketing strategy you’ve used in making people aware of your work on Scribd? And/or: What has NOT worked?
First of all, people will never be aware of your work unless you put it out there. That’s the first brave step.
When it comes to marketing strategies, the Scribd “Readcast” system is quite efficient, although I try not to inundate my readers on Scribd, Facebook, or Twitter by “Readcasting” more than one document every couple of days. I also think it’s important to upload something new on a weekly basis, even if it’s only a few pages, so you can keep your audience interested and expanding.
Commenting on other writers’ pieces is a must, too. Find writers you enjoy, subscribe to them, and share the writing that moves you with your friends. You may just discover that these writers also enjoy reading your words.
To me, the easiest way to make others aware of your work is by feeling deeply passionate about what you write. Each of my pieces begins from a feeling that we’ve all experienced—guilt, sadness, fear, love, anger, lust, denial, yearning. These are the things that make us human, that connect us universally. I can only hope that my writing reminds others to truly embrace life. ??
Do you think Scribd could be a tool for everyone? What’s your take on its strengths and weaknesses as a DIY tool??
Scribd is most definitely a tool for everyone. Even the big publishing houses are uploading excerpts of titles there, so they can generate buzz with readers, and then guide them to where they can purchase the book.
It’s hard to think of weaknesses in Scribd because uploading my documents there has changed my life in incredible ways. When I doubt my purpose as a writer or sleep-deprived mommy, the community I have found on Scribd tells me to forge ahead.
But, if I must come up with something in need of improvement, I’d say that the number of words allowed when commenting on a document needs expansion. Writers need more room to write.
?What are your plans now for your memoir?
Currently, I am not signed with a literary agent, but I’m keeping my options open. Given the 30,000 new readers I’ve amassed on Scribd in only three months, I’m seriously considering launching my memoir as an e-book on Scribd.
Either way, I plan to have Drop Dead Life released by my late husband’s birthday, October 11, 2011.