Today we’re welcoming Elizabeth Fournier to Day By Day Writer. Elizabeth wrote her All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates balanced between a day job and new marriage and self-published it. She has quite a colorful working background, as she says on her website: “Elizabeth is currently the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine. You can also see her online as the Video Spokesperson for Chinook Winds Casino Resort. She and her dance partner, Scott, teach Ballroom Dance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Oh, and she’s also a full-time mortician.” Ha! And love the title of that book. Now we know where it comes from.
Writing a novel in between a full-time job, family and the other commitments in one’s life is, to say the least, challenging. (Not to mention tiring — I’m in the same boat.) How did you fit writing into your schedule?
When I wrote All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates, I was newly married. After planning a wedding across the country in only five months, I decided I could do anything. So I promptly sat down at the keyboard after our return from New Jersey and cranked out my manuscript.
The conflict between wanting to be with my new husband and wanting to write was tricky. It was a long, hot summer, and I had to miss out on some great fishing and hikes, but I managed to never miss a tasty barbecue! I was so lucky to have a supportively fabulous husband so I could take that time and do my work at home.
The editing portion of my manuscript took place at my funeral home. My parlour is located on acreage in the country in a remodeled goat barn. It is peaceful, and my mind feels untroubled there. I can stare out the window and see deer, green grass and lots of beautiful trees and plants. It’s Heavenly!
How long did it take to write and revise your memoir ready for publication?
I finished my first draft in a month. Seriously, I did. The book started from a series of e-mails I sent to my beloved father. I would tell him about a date and then e-mail him the not so great events of the date when arriving home. He loved being a part of my quest to find true love as much as I loved having him along for the self-deprecating ride.
The first draft was 77 chapters, one chapter for the 77 individual dates. I thought it was fresh and brilliant! None of the literary agents I sent it to could see that point of view. I quickly decided that a redo was inevitable.
With enthusiasm quashed, I got back to the keyboard and enlisted help from a wonderful storyboard editor down Hollywood way named Michele Gendelman. She had worked (among many things) on a few episodes for The Facts of Life. The show’s glamour character, Blair Warner, was the end-all for me in my youth, so I knew I was in capable hands.
Michelle encouraged me to break up the manuscript into larger chapters, add dialogue and most of all, have fun. Sound advice, and even though she knew dialogue doesn’t easily appear out of the sky, I opened my heart, and it all poured out with ease.
As I had revisions revised and revisited, it all tightened up into a nice story. The original manuscript was twice as long. While preparing the final version, I was most concerned with being extremely honest without violating the privacy of my wonderful friends — and blind dates!
Did you always plan to self-publish or did you go the traditional route first? And how did you decide to self-publish?
After I had a pretty decent version, I obtained an agent rather quickly. I got the phone call while pregnant and drying my clothes at the Laundromat. I could hardly hear her over the whizzing noise of the vast dryers, so I had to move the conversation to the funeral van waiting in the parking lot. My husband found me collapsed in the back on the gurney after my exhaustive, joyful shrieking.
That joy turned to immediate frustration when my newly acquired agent’s e-mail updates would list proposals sent out to various editors, only to find curtly generic “thanks, but no thanks” notes received back. I thought that publishers would read the synopsis and opening chapters to see if I had a feel for language and an aptitude for telling my story. To that extent, I did accomplish something. Although every submission came back with a rejection, it was clear they had enjoyed reading the material. That was the upside.
The downside was that they also said they rarely, if ever, accepted non-fiction manuscripts from some random writer without a platform. After all, I am just a girl from Boring, Oregon, who went on 77 blind dates and just happens to own a keyboard.
What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in self-publishing?
When my book was released, I was psyched and knew it was a must-have for all bookstores, everywhere. Ha! I called the corporate offices of Barnes and Noble and learned that even though my book is on their computers, they rarely ever stock self-published books.
I’ve also learned that without bookstores, a book isn’t likely to do well, even with lots of publicity. A huge percentage of people do not buy books online. I am available through Amazon and I am distributed through Ingram, so I am essentially available at any bookstore or website, but I really had my heart set on waltzing into a Borders one day and seeing a huge cardboard cut-out of my lovely cover.
This all does not mean bookstores will stock my book. There are so many hurdles in doing it yourself, including getting book reviews and noticed by the book industry papers, such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, ForeWord and Booklist. I haven’t overcome all the hurdles yet.
How are you promoting the book?
Work, work, work! It is a job which never sleeps. Thank God for the Internet and e-mail. I can solicit, query, chat, blog, post, research, etc. 24 hours a day. I solicit websites, send out queries to radio stations, I chat with other authors of my genre, I blog on a few sites, I post connect with others, and I research more ways to promote myself. I put myself out there, and it has paid off.
I have hit up trade publications, anything about dating, blind dating, local and community papers, have done readings at local places, am for sale at random local places and pretty much hand out my book cover magnets to all I speak with.
I have a wonderful publicist (Abby Kraus PR) who finds interesting and valuable leads. She’s great! I definitely recommend hiring a publicist — they just have many, many more contacts than an average author can find scouring the Internet.
What advice would you give to other writers considering self-publishing?
I’d read somewhere about advertising that it takes seven times for a person to see a new product before it registers. Thus, how do you show your book to people seven times? Get the word out there. Solicit, query, chat, blog, post, research!
A talent you need as a writer is the ability to write a good short query via email. You need to understand how to get the attention of harried editors, agents, reviewers, and more people.
One trick about press releases, by the way, is to come up with a headline that does NOT mention the title of your book or your name. After all, if people see either, will they be compelled to read your release? Probably not. This forces you to find the news for your headline.
Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing — work. And a great, quality book cover is critical.
Check out Elizabeth’s website, and if you don’t see her book in your local Barnes & Noble, ask them why.
And follow Elizabeth on the rest of her blog tour:
May 18: TV Boyfriends
May 21: Annette Fix’s blog
May 22: Kristin Bair O’Keefe
May 26: Wedding Skulls
June 5: Fatal Foodies
June 8: Sybil Baker’s blog
June 11: Misadventures With Andi
June 15: Modern Single Momma