As a writer, I’m always interested in how we tell stories, how we push through to (hopefully) finish projects, and how we solve the rubik’s cube of how to market one’s book. In this author spotlight I interview Karen Eberwein, California native, adventurer, Francophile, and my friend.
Jennifer Bowen: Tell us about your book and what sparked you to write it?
Karen Eberwein: 24/7 French Lessons, My Quest to Learn French in a Dordogne Village is the story of my eleven months of immersion, living in a small French village, trying to learn French. In the process of acquiring new verb tenses, new friendships were made and before I knew it, the community accepted me. So many unique, truly French experiences happened that my blog followers, family, and friends urged me to write a book about this ultimate dream trip so everyone could share it. And as a voracious reader, I must admit, I’ve always wanted to write a book.
JB: Did you have any apprehensions about living in France for almost a year?
KE: None at all. Living in France has been a dream of mine since I was a pre-teen. I kept it close to my heart all those years (I’m 55 years old) hoping that someday it would happen. When this window of opportunity opened, I happily jumped! Not to be greedy, but I’d do it again.
JB: How did you begin the writing process for this book?
KE: I faithfully wrote a blog entry each day during my time in France and some of that material was used for the framework of the book. It was a good tool to aid my poor memory, that’s for sure. Yet I knew the book needed to be different than the blog. It needed to have sharp main characters with enough depth so their charm shone through brightly. The goal was for people to know them like I did. I wanted the reader to settle into French life along with me and to experience the growing friendships as I did. The thought that lingered in the back of my mind was Ann Patchett’s advice from This is the Story of a Happy Marriage which counseled writers to ‘forgive yourself’ if the written page is not like the perfect sentences that formed in your mind. Her essay helped me. Then I listened to the strength of my inner urge to write as I thought about chapters over different periods of time. The urge would become so strong that I would wake in the middle of the night. Relief would only come by writing until the story was captured. I actually began writing about the small, intimate details of a typical day. I didn’t want that normality to be lost. I knew that the big experiences would be easy to remember.
JB: Have you ever been drawn to writing before?
KE: When I hiked the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, I wrote a blog that was a public and a private journal. It was therapeutic. Plus it was an activity I could do lying down!
JB: There are a lot of fabulous photos in the book that you took. Tell us about that part of the creative process, taking the photos, and weaving them in.
KE: Again the PCT backpacking trip influenced me, this time by enhancing my photography. There was no way I would carry heavy lens on the trail so I developed my style using natural, available light, especially during very early mornings. In France I often woke with the sun to get the soft light I wanted. It was also during my time on the trail that I noticed my mind framed shots. When I was in France, my camera was always, always with me because a shot could appear at any time and when that happened, it literally stopped me. When the voice in my head told me, “That’s a picture” I trusted it and took as many shots as necessary until I felt the image was captured. The pictures help transport the reader to France. I love combining an image with the conversation that ties to the image. And France is just so beautiful. It’s hard to take a bad picture with so much beauty surrounding you.
JB: How did you edit/workshop the book?
KE: I worked with two wonderful editors. Both women helped shape the book with useful suggestions, but more importantly, they caught those pesky grammatical errors. The book is as clean as a traditionally published book.
JB: Tell us about your process to self-publish, what steps you took.
KE: Like living in France, I wanted to enjoy and experience every stage of the adventure of writing, publishing, and marketing a book. I spent at least a year researching the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing vs. the traditional route. I crafted a tight, descriptive query and synopsis. Then I selected twenty-two agents whom I believed were a good fit with my genre and desired style of representation. I was actually in New Zealand when I sent the queries. Even though others warned of silence to query letters, I received extremely kind, encouraging replies. Unfortunately they were polite rejection letters. Three agents asked me to improve my platform, prove that the book can sell, and then re-connect with them. Once it was evident that I would be self-publishing, I researched and selected the company to self-publish.
JB: What marketing have you done for the book, or plan to do now that it’s been out about a month?
KE: This year is all about marketing on a limited budget. So far I have approached 16 San Francisco Bay Area bookstores with the following results: 8 carrying the book, 5 still in negotiations, and 3 declined. One of the bookstores still deciding is located in the San Francisco Airport, which would be a huge ‘get’. For possible further Bay Area exposure, I am working with a radio-marketing executive who might be able to arrange for the radio talent to write about the book on their Facebook pages. (This came about because I told my hairstylist about giving my book along with a box of croissants to a radio station. She immediately had me meet her next client who was the radio-marketing executive) Of course I created a Facebook page for the book and regularly post to it. Also on the global marketing level, three bloggers accepted my invitation to review the book. I sent a press release to ten bloggers whose interests ranged from books to French cooking to Francophiles. To reach audiences across the US, I have a national journal, which will interview me, plus I plan to introduce the book to French clubs in major US cities. I’m in negotiations with two French schools to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the book sold to the school’s families. Finally I have held one book reading and signing evening with two more scheduled. I’ll continue to schedule as many book reading as I can in other major cities. It’s a good thing that I love road trips! I’m still deciding whether to join Twitter, but I need to learn more about it. Oh, I almost forgot, I shamelessly emailed all my contacts to announce the book’s release.
JB: Are you writing still? Do you feel there’s another story in there?
KE: Well, I gave birth to this story so now I have to help it grow up to be big and strong. My focus is on marketing more than writing. Having said that, yes, I have another story that wants to be told.
JB: Do you see yourself returning to Cenac-et-St. Julien?
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