Today we are interviewing my client, novelist Rayme Waters, whose new book, The Angels’ Share was published by Winter Goose Press this August. The novel is the story of Cinnamon Monday, a girl born into the 1970′s Northern California counterculture. Her family, originally owners of a great Nob Hill hotel, have suffered a reversal of fortune. Her parents are hippies without reliable income and have fallen into drug and alcohol dependence. After nearly dying of meth addiction, Cinnamon finds work at a small Sonoma County winery and rebuilds her life through her own resilience and courage.
When I decided to represent Rayme, I read her manuscript at the request of a mutual friend (not in the writing world) who asked me to do him a favor and take a look. I could tell by the end of the first page that Rayme had talent and that I really wanted to work with her.
The publisher, Winter Goose, is small, so most of the work in promoting The Angels’ Share is going to fall on the author. By the way, this is no less true with authors published by large houses. The single most common complaint I hear from published authors is that the publisher didn’t do anything to promote the book.
Today I want to talk to Rayme about her experience and wisdom in promoting her literary novel.
Andy: Rayme, when I first finished reading The Angels’ Share, I was sure that you must have been a recovering meth addict. The scenes describing Cinnamon’s addiction were utterly convincing. When we finally met, it was clear that you just weren’t that kind of girl. How on earth were you able to describe the experience with such verisimilitude?
Rayme: Before the explosion of vineyards, the two main crops in Sonoma County were apples and marijuana. However, when I was in high school in the 1980s, meth—speed is what we called it—was suddenly everywhere. Meth was cheap and took the edge off rural boredom. Girls thought it would make them skinny. Although I was more a wallflower at the drug party, I watched childhood friends take Cinnamon’s path. In a way, The Angels’ Share honors the memories of these friendships and wishes those friends a happy ending.
Andy: Let’s talk about how you, as a first time published novelist, have gone about promoting your book. I know you have been pretty relentless about it. What are the first steps?
Rayme: This is my first rodeo and I am certainly learning as I go. That being said, there are some marketing strategies that I’ve employed: create marketing materials that have your basic information displayed pleasingly and professionally, have an “elevator” pitch ready and deliver it with enthusiasm, and work your network—find out who reads, or who would be willing to read your book, then ask them to buy it. Then, if they love it, ask them to recommend it to other readers they know. You have to really ride that fine line between being assertive and aggressive—it’s tough.
Andy: Ok. Stop. “Elevator Pitch”. I hear that word a lot at writer’s conferences and by people in film. What’s an elevator pitch? Why do you need it? And tell us the elevator pitch for Angel’s Share.
Rayme: Elevator pitch is slang for a two to three sentence description of a novel. Everyone will ask you and you never know who might be able to help you find an agent, be a popular book blogger or be the decider for their next book club pick.
I describe The Angels’ Share as the story of a young woman rebuilding her life while working at a small Sonoma County winery. With elements of a mystery and a love story, the novel is a great pick for book clubs.
A reader said I should pitch The Angels’ Share as Breaking Bad meets Jane Eyre. I think that’s great, and if I’m ever in an elevator with a Hollywood producer I’d add that in.
Andy: Everybody says that an author has to have their own website. Yours is pretty stunning. Can you tell us what goes into making a good site and what features are most effective?
Rayme: I really wanted something that didn’t have a “template-y” look to it, so I went to a pro. Ilsa Brink, was willing to do the design work to make my website unique. She’s fantastic and had already done websites for many other writers. It is good to post early reviews or advance praise on your website because you can point people to it when you let them know the book is for sale.
Andy: Can you tell us what one can expect to pay for this kind of professionally produced site?
Rayme: I saw offers on Etsy.com to design a very simple website for three hundred dollars but if you go with a lot of custom design work and content creation I’d say you are looking at closer to two thousand. I provided much of the content for mine and the price fell somewhere in the middle.
Andy: What has been your experience with social media? Are you active on Facebook? Twitter? Goodreads? What else?
Rayme: This was a huge topic of conversation at AWP (Association of Writing Professionals) this year in Chicago. Social media can help expand your potential audience, but really how many more books do you sell by Tweeting three times a day? No one can say. My advice would be to do as much social media as you can stand. I have a Twitter account and a fan page on Facebook. I could do more, but just these two outlets keep me as distracted as I want to be from my writing.
Andy: What about writers conferences? Have you gone to any? Are they worth it? What should a writer expect to get out of one?
Rayme: I have been to Sewanee, Tin House and the John Milton Writers’ Conference. They were excellent networking opportunities and most of the advance praise and university speaking invites I’ve gotten so far came out of the contacts I made at these three conferences. One regret I have is that I didn’t go to more of them and make more connections before the novel came out. I highly recommend them.
Andy: Give me a few more details. What is the value of networking opportunities? Other than networking, what kind of concrete and useful information to you walk away with?
Rayme: While you can certainly make connections online, when you meet someone in person the bond is so much stronger. At conferences, I met editors of literary journals who I could send stories to directly, agents who wanted to see my work and my workshop leader at Sewanee, Diane Johnson, gave advance praise on my novel. I could have emailed all of these people and asked for the same opportunities, but because they had met me I had a much better chance of success.
After meeting people, the next best thing to come out of writing conferences was advice on improving my craft. This came sometimes through critique I received in workshop, but more often in the lectures and panel discussions. It was also very affirming to meet other writers who were in my same situation or a little ahead of me in the process. Stories they told of their own tenacity were encouraging.