Eli Hastings didn’t write ‘Clearly Now, The Rain: A Memoir of Love and Other Trips’ to be published. After the death of his best friend and lover Serala, he followed through on his promise: “If you die, I’m going to write a book about you.”
Once he was ready to share his story and publish his book, he found reaching readers was more difficult than he expected. We asked him to share his story and what he learned through the process.
On the woman who inspired the book:
In 1996, I had the great fortune of finding a best friend and lover that would transform the way I lived, loved, and looked at life. We had a wild ride, literally and figuratively, over nearly a decade and through many storied cities and many traumas and adventures. I had always told her that if she died (which was always likely) I would write a book about her.
I didn’t know that I really would until she died quite traumatically and inconsiderately on my watch between Christmas and New Years of 2004. Then I knew that I had to write the book to heal myself from the grief, despair and trauma of her passing.
On the publishing experience:
At first I didn’t think I wanted to publish the book, once I decided to it took me no less than eight years, two and a half agents (long story), some fifty rejections and seventeen revisions I think most of the healing happened in the writing, but I have found that a considerable amount has also come from sharing the story of my friend, sharing the lessons she taught me about how to live and love (and how not to.)
On getting attention and promoting the book:
I was surprised at how little my publisher did to promote the book. It seemed like all they did was send the book out to all the national reviewers. I didn’t know I needed to think about my own marketing and I didn’t even know how to do it. I had to seek outside help.
What I’ve seen really work is writing short pieces for national publications that draw attention back to the book and platform. I’ve also enjoyed that process.
On the challenges he faced:
The biggest challenge has been the emotional toll of working so hard to attract readers and how easily you can get dissed. For example, I had so many challenges scheduling readings in bookstores that we started trying bars. In some ways, we found those even work better! You’ve got to get out and stay outside the box.
I also needed help with organization, prioritization, connections, diplomacy, and new ideas. But most of all, I needed empathy for how frustrating the process can be. Self-publishing has changed the entire playing field. People who can barely craft a sentence might be kick-ass at self-promotion online and make lots of money. In short, the market is flooded with both crap and gold with both self-published and professionally published e-books that don’t cost publishers anything.
On what’s important:
The most meaningful experience for me has been reading messages from people who were moved by my book and needed to tell me so. There is nothing more important to me than knowing that the book has reached people in the way I hoped it would.
Consistent engagement online and in person with your readers is incredibly important. Finding ways to engage people that aren’t always focused on you and your work is indispensable too.
Knowing what I know now, I would have started marketing as soon as my contract was signed for publication and had a plan ready in advance. I would have been clear about what I was good at and capable of and what I really needed to let others handle. I would have planned a very strategic book tour even if it cost me a good bit of money to breathe life into the book from different places.
It’s important to understand what to expect from the beginning or make a plan so you feel like you know what to expect. I’ve learned a lot through this process thanks to those who have helped me, my readers, and of course — Serala.
Note from AM:PM PR’s Mike Phillips: