I had the lovely opportunity to chat with Lisa Manterfield this week, author of the memoir I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home, about her journey through infertility. She is a big proponent of self-publishing and offers some helpful insights that may shorten the learning curve if you're considering going that route. She is also doing a unique experiment with her fiction (a serial novel!) so read on below to find out more.
LISA MANTERIELD is the creator of an online forum LifeWithoutBaby.com that gives a voice to women without children. Her writing has been featured in Los Angeles Times, Bicycle Times, and Romantic Homes. In her gritty, award-winning memoir, I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood, Lisa traces her spiraling route from rational 21st century woman to desperate mama-wannabe.
She examines the siren song of motherhood, the insidious lure of the fertility industry, and the repercussions of being childless in a mom-centric society. But this isn't just another infertility story with another miracle baby ending, nor is it a sad introspective of a childless woman; this is a story about love, desire, and choices and ultimately about hope. It is the story of a woman who escapes her addiction, not with a baby, but with her sanity, her marriage, and her sense-of-self intact. I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home is a 2012 Independent Publishers Book Awards winner.
Lisa lives with her husband and cat, and divides her time between Los Angeles and Santa Rosa, California.
Karin: Where did your memoir begin?
Lisa: I had signed up for The Writer's Studio at UCLA with Barbara Abercrombie, and her husband was sick suddenly. This was a few years ago. And Amy Friedman was the replacement teacher. I just connected with her immediately. She did this exercise in class where she had us go home and write on a piece of paper, “What is the one thing that you don't want to write about?” So I went home and thought about it, and I said, “I don't want to write about infertility. I don't want to write about this... I'm living it. Not interested in writing about it.” I went in the next day to see what she was going to do with it and she didn't do anything with it. She never mentioned it again.
So that topic sort of wormed its way into my mind until I ended up writing about it. I always sort of laughed that that was one of her devious moves to get us to write about things that we “thought” we didn't want to write about, the hard stuff.
I really started writing about it as a way to deal with what I was going through. And then I kept writing and kept writing, and finally I thought, you know, there's nothing out there on this topic. There were very few books out there, but they were a lot of “how to” books or “miracle baby” endings. So I started writing more and more about it, and I realized that I had a book. I put together these funny essays and had some people read them; and I just realized I was just skimming the surface of my own story.
So I took a step back and started from the beginning again, thinking, “What's the story that I want to tell?” And I still wasn't sure what the ending was going to be, so it's kind of interesting that the process of writing the story helped me to understand what my own ending needed to be. Not just the book, but the ending for my own story.
For you, what does it mean to realize that you 'have a book'?
Some people go through a life experience and go, “I want to write about this, I want to share this story” and that wasn't the way it happened for me. I have always wanted to write fiction and have been working towards how to write fiction; and at the same time writing personal essays, which is what I did at Spark, writing short narrative nonfiction. So I never really set out to write a memoir, but was gathering this material and realizing that I was probably looking for a book myself that didn't exist. There really were not resources out there. I wasn't hearing this story... “What happens when it doesn't work out for you?” Does that happen to anybody? I just felt that somebody needed to talk about it. For me, it needed to be written, and I'm really glad that I did.
Did you publish traditionally or independently?
I did it independently. I did pitch it traditionally, and that topic - even now - is pretty taboo. There are very few traditionally published books around that topic. But I knew I just needed to get it out there; so yeah, I did publish it independently. And ultimately, I think that was the best move for it.
Because it is a niche audience. I think it's a much bigger audience than people realize, but it is very niche. Part of publishing the book was starting a blog, which has actually really grown into this pretty active online community. So that's something that came out of the publishing process. That in turn led to the follow-on book which is more of a “how to” book. Sometimes you make plans of which direction your career or life is going to go, and then things just kind of evolve.
But I like the self-publishing process. I like having that control. It's a lot of work, but you have a lot of control over it. It's a lot of work, but it's kind of fun to know that you've basically produced the whole product, not just the writing aspect of it, but the whole package.
I think so much is changing in the traditional publishing world now, I think it's really hard to get a book noticed, especially for a debut author. It happens, of course it happens. But it feels like that whole world is in flux right now and there are so many people publishing independently and really doing it well. It is a lot of work and the big downside, I think, is not having that kind of support system and team behind you that can look at your book and say, “I see exactly where this fits in the market and this is how we're going to reach that audience.” So when you publish yourself, you've got to figure all that out.
But the flip side of it is, you can get your book out there. And if you're willing to the do the work, do the marketing - which you're going to have to do anyway - there's no reason for somebody not to get their work out into the world and find the readers that want it. It's kind of exciting actually.
When you went through the process, whom did you hire along the way?
I hired Jennie Nash originally as a book coach to look at the overall book and the structure of it and the flow.
After you'd written a draft?
Yes. And then once I got it to where I was happy, I hired an editor. I have a friend who is a freelance editor and she was the one who actually edited for me. And then I hired a proofreader as well. The number one thing that I wanted going the self-publishing route was to make sure that it didn't look like a self-published book. That it wasn't full of typos, that it was well laid out, that the cover looked professional. So I hired all that stuff out, which was a pretty steep learning curve for me. And there are definitely things I would have done differently, but I'm still really proud of how the book came out.
What would you have done differently in retrospect?
As far as the package, nothing. But the distribution... I decided that I would print a large quantity of books and have them delivered to my house. It wasn't a huge number, I think it was maybe 250 or 300 books on the first printing, but when that shows up on your doorstep, there's a lot of boxes. And then I ended up shipping those boxes to Amazon, so double shipping costs there. The second book I used Create Space and Ingram's Lightning Source. Through those two channels I'm able to distribute to all the major online bookstores.
The thing you don't get with self-publishing is access to major brick and mortar bookstores. So that's definitely a downside. Just being able to do bookstore events, for example. Like my local Barnes & Noble said, “Oh we'd love to have you, but your book is not in our catalogue so we can't sell your book here.” But that's changing; I think they're now including self-published authors in their catalogue. And then I did a couple of events at independent bookstores where they took books on consignment, so there's a way around that stuff.
What exactly is Create Space?
So Create Space is Amazon's print-on-demand service. You basically load the book into it and they only sell through Amazon. But they print as needed rather than doing a bulk order and then shipping it. So that's great, that takes that double shipping out of the loop. And then Lightning Source is a similar thing - they are also print on demand - so I can get print books into the online stores like Barnes & Noble but their online version. And then bookstores can order from Ingram, too.
I'm curious to hear more about what you're doing now... It sounds like you're circling back to fiction in an interesting way?
Yeah, I have circled back and am publishing a serial novel online, A Strange Companion. I'm doing it on my website and I'm also doing it on Wattpad which is a bit of an experiment; I'm not sure how that's going yet. I'm posting a chapter a week of my novel.
What have you learned so far?
I have learned to listen to my wise friends who told me to make sure I have six fully completed chapters before I start posting, because I'm finding myself at the moment running headfirst against my deadline. But I haven't missed a deadline yet!
So the flip side is that having that deadline is making sure that I get to my desk and I get my writing done. I really just wanted to get my fiction out there, and this is a novel that I've written and rewritten and pitched and rewritten... many, many, many times. And then said, “You know what, this book is going nowhere. I'm going to put it under my bed and forget about it and move on to the next one.” So when I finished a second book, which I'm now currently pitching to agents, I have this book under the bed and say, “I really love this story, I want to get it out there.” And looking if there's a way to start building a readership for fiction and decided, you know, I'm just going to start putting this out there and do it as a serial novel. I know the story. I'm going to make a really clean outline so I know where I'm going, and then write, edit and publish a chapter every week. It's definitely gotten me working on this book again which I probably would have just abandoned. There's an instant gratification factor of putting chapters out there and having people respond to them. It's a little bit nerve-wracking; as you know, even as you get to later drafts of a book, things change and sometimes you need to go backward before you can move forward. But once something's been published that's much harder to do. I would say overall it's been a really good experience. It's been really fun, which sometimes writing can stop being fun when you're trying to get towards a finished product and you're going through, particularly, that revision process. For me the fun part is the new, shiny first draft; you get to your fifth or sixth revision and at some point it stops being fun.
Do you intend to go back and revisit any of it, or is it just going to be whatever has been posted?
At some point I will put it together and publish it as a complete book, but whether I will just put the chapters together and clean it up and publish it, or put it together and take another bigger look and make more significant revisions, I'm not sure yet. But at some point I will put it together and make it available in another format.
Some people really like the serial format where they look forward to a new chapter coming every week. But a couple people said, you know, I like the story but I'm going to wait until it's done because I don't like having to wait a week. I want to binge read the story.
Where did you get this idea from? Do you read other serial novels?
I do not actually. Again, talking about the changes in publishing and that there are so many ways to get your work out there in the world; I'd come across Wattpad, which is a writing and publishing app. It's this whole community of writers and it's more teen writers and young adult stories for the most part, where people really are publishing first drafts online and then getting feedback. It's a really active community... just seeing other writers putting their first few chapters of their novels up there, or publishing novellas or short stories that are spin offs from their published novels. So I've been snooping around, and thought, you know, this is a really good way to get this book out there without me having to commit to doing a complete revision before I do anything with it.
How did you go about building an audience for yourself?
Well, that's partly the reason that I did it actually, is to start building that audience for my fiction. Because it's really hard to build an audience when you don't have anything for them to read as far as fiction. Even though there's some crossover between the fiction and nonfiction, it's still largely a different audience. You know, we get hammered all the way that “you must build a platform, you must build a platform.” And I think it's really hard to do that when you don't have anything to tell people about. So that was one of the reasons that I decided to do this as well, to actually use it to start building a readership so that when the next book comes out, I'll already have a built-in readership.
I'm still on the fence on whether Wattpad is the right place for this, but I'm continuing to publish. What I've done is reach out to people that I already know - so friends, social media, using Facebook, and also then telling my nonfiction, “Hey, if any of you enjoy fiction this is what I'm doing.” It's definitely a slow growth, but it's an ongoing slow growth. It's an experiment. I'm not sure yet if it's going to be a successful experiment; I think it is. But it's serving several purposes and one of those is to start growing an audience and let people know that, “Hey, I write fiction as well.”
How do you access it and what chapter are you on now?
So this week was chapter 15 and that's about the midpoint of the novel; so yeah, the 15 chapters are all posted on my website. And then if you want to subscribe to the newsletter, you get a notification every week when the new chapter comes out.
So you don't have to sign up to Wattpad necessarily?
No. That's part of my experiment to see what kind of readership that generates. But my main focus is publishing it on my website.
In terms of process, what have you found serves you well in doing your work?
As far as having a process, mornings are my writing time and I'm very protective of it. They do get nibbled into of course, because that's life; but I really try to be protective of the morning. What I've discovered about the way I work is that I need to play first. I need to take my idea and play with it, whether that's writing exercises or writing nonsense or writing a lot of stuff that might never make it into a book. For me I need an outline, structure is really crucial before you go into that fully formed first draft. But I need to play around and figure out what it is that I want to write about first. And then put a stake in the ground and say, “Okay, this is the story, this is what I'm going to write.”
I know some writers who are up and at their desk at 7, and 7 to 10 is their writing time. But I need a little bit more flexibility in there. But I do try to get there every day and do something, at least touch the work, even if words don't end up on the page.
To learn more about Lisa Manterfield, visit lisamanterfield.com
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