My client, Maritere Bellas, published her book, Raising BilingualChildren/Cómo Crian Niños Bilingues, with Simon and Schuster in the fall of 2014. It’s been out about six months and was just nominated for a big award (more on that in a minute!) I thought this was a good time to talk to Mari about the launch and how the marketing is going — because it hasn’t been the smoothest road and Mari was willing to share both the ups (the big award!) and the downs.
Reaching readers is hard work, and all authors have to figure out the best way to do it within the confines of their writing and their life and their other work. A lot of it is trial and error — figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t. A lot of it is also ongoing. It’s usually never just about one book. Mari, for example, set out to write one book, ended up writing another, and now has three others in the works.
Marketing starts before you finish your book and continues long after it comes out. The good news is that you can use what you learn to build a readership for your next book, and your next. It’s a long game to be sure – not a sprint, and a not a one-off undertaking.
So a bit about Mari. She is a bilingual (Spanish and English) freelance writer, blogger, and author with a degree in communications from Pepperdine University. Realizing she could combine her two life passions, writing and motherhood, Mari became a voice for Latino parents long before the existence of online parenting resources. For eleven years, Mari wrote a highly regarded and influential parenting column for La Opinión, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the country. During that time, she also wrote for Ser Padres and for Healthy Kids en Español. For the last three years, her articles appeared in Vista magazine, distributed nationally and online via the ImpreMedia group, in the top 15 U.S. Hispanic markets. A parenting blogger since the fall of 2014, when she joined todobebé.com, she is now also a contributor to HipLatina.com.
Mari’s second book, Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie: Raising Bicultural Children, will be released in 2015. Currently, she is working on a bilingual children’s book entitled “Español No, Mami” (Spanish No, Mommy) geared to motivate children ages 4-7 to feel pride for their family’s native language.
Mari was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Her husband grew up in Ohio and is 100% Greek. They raised two children in Southern California. You can find Mari on her Facebook page.
Q: This book was not the first book you wrote. When you first came to me, you had a very different idea. Can you explain your original idea?
A: I wrote a manuscript for a book about raising bicultural children. That idea came to mind many years ago while I was writing a weekly parenting column for La Opinión. At that time, there was very little information for Latino immigrant parents that were raising children with two cultures.
Q: It was a great idea! So you wrote that book, which included a lot of interviews and stories from parents and even kids. You polished it and pitched it to agents. Tell the story about what unfolded from there -- how your agent shopped the book around, and how you were then presented with this OTHER idea.
A: Thanks to YOU, I finished that manuscript which we ended up calling Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie: Raising Bicultural Children. I went to a writer’s conference in NYC and met a few literary agents and a couple of publishers. I walked away with a literary agent and some interest from Simon and Schuster. They left with my ten-page proposal. My agent shopped it around and when she got to Simon and Schuster, they asked if we could put that one on hold and wanted to know if I would write a book on language that would include tips and resources for parents on how to raise bilingual and/or multilingual children.
[Note from Jennie: the creative process doesn’t always end when you land and agent or even when you land a publisher. There are often a lot of decisions to make, and they can be tough ones! It’s important to stay true to your vision, your desires and your goals. Mari did that, even as she made the choice to pivot and write a new book.]
Q: Was it hard to make the decision to set the first book aside and write a whole new book for Simon & Schuster?
A. Yes! It took me two weeks to decide. I was done doing interviews and writing stories of the people I interviewed. I wanted my original manuscript published! I had worked on it for ten years! But everyone in the know that I spoke to told me I was crazy to turn down Simon and Schuster, so I signed the contract. I later realized there was a lot to say about raising bilingual children!
Q: This was an e-book only deal. What were your thoughts about that at the time, and how do you feel about it now?
A: To be honest I didn’t realize it was an e-book only until it was too late. I had never been in this position before — I am just a writer. Well, now an author (still get goosebumps at that!) I would have liked to have more direct guidance. I should have had other people read my contract. That way, I would have understood that I was not getting a physical book and I would have tried to negotiate that.
Q: What are the biggest downsides of an e-book only book?
A: I have gone to several public speaking engagements in the last four months and would have probably sold over 500 physical books if I had one. I am still trying to convince the publishers that I need a physical book. Clearly, I have two audiences. One is the older generations of parents and grandparents that want to leave these kinds of events with the actual book, and the other audience is the younger parents (or parents to-be) that read on Kindle or IPads or listen to audiobooks. I think having both the physical book and the e-book would be best.
Q: The book has been out about six months now. What has your experience been with marketing? Can you talk about the hard work of writing versus the hard work of marketing?
A: Sales are slow, especially for the Spanish version. I find myself marketing or thinking of marketing ideas all the time. I am in the process of developing a website that will include links to both versions of the book. I am using social media and other publicity methods to encourage sales. It is a lot of work and I just want to be writing my next book!
[Note from Jennie: so many writers have the same wish — but most of us don’t have it come true. We have to write and market and live our real lives, all at the same time. Finding a way to make that balance work is the key to building a career as a writer.]
Q. Do you wish you had launched a website earlier?
A: I am not sure. Some people do it before others after. I don’t think there is a magic way. I launched a Facebook page right after the book came out and that has been my way of communicating with the universe. A few months after that, I launched my Twitter account and that has been fun. I now have an Instagram, too. My website is more about what I bring to the parenting world for now and also about my writing and my speaking capabilities.
[Note from Jennie: what we learned in the social media webinar a few weeks ago is that you don’t have to do EVERYTHING all at one time. You can build your presence slowly the way Mari has done, adding one thing as a time as you are able. I have to say that Mari was a person who was VERY leery of getting involved with any social media or technology. She has been very brave and taught herself to do things she was frightened of before. None of this came easily to her. To hear her say that Twitter is fun is like – WHAAATTTTT???? The goal is just to start. Leap in. Try something to start reaching your readers, and build as you go.]
Q: Your book just won a major award! Woo hoo! That should be a big boost for help sales, because awards are major publicity machines. How does that feel?
A: The book is a finalist for the International Latino Book Awards. This outfit celebrates worldwide achievements in Latino literature. The awards are presented by Latino Literacy Now in partnership with the Las Comadres Para las Americas organization and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and it is an affiliate of the American Library Association. It is always an honored to be recognized by the community of people that understand your hard work.
Q: What has been the best part about becoming a published author? You were a newspaper columnist for many years. What’s different about having a book?
A: Being a book author validates my work as a writer. I think it commands respect and admiration for your hard work. It elevates you within your craft. I believe it helps others understand your hard work and dedication to what you love doing.
Q: What are your plans for the original book? What will you do differently this time and why?
A. I am adding one more chapter to that book and my personal deadline is June 1. I am waiting to hear from a small publishing house that is very interested in publishing that book. I am not opposed to self publish that manuscript so I can have a physical book ASAP. After talking to many book authors who have been rejected by publishing houses and who have opted to self-publish, I am excited at that prospect. I could have total control and use an illustrator of my choice.
[Note from Jennie: Mari highlights the two BIG differences between traditional and self publishing: speed and control. With traditional publishing, the process is s-l-o-w and the author is part of a team — not the BOSS of the team, just part of a team. In self-publishing, the process if super fast and the author is President and CEO of the whole enterprise. You get to make every decision. That also means that, um, you have to make every decision. And also lick the stamps and get the coffee.]
Q: What other projects do you have planned for the future?
A. I have the content for my first children’s book already finished and am now working with an illustrator. I have two more children’s book story ideas. I would like all of these three books out by 2016. After that, I am going to write my first novel, based on a true story from Puerto Rico, my homeland.
[Note from Jennie: Creativity begets creativity! No sooner had Mari written one book than she had ideas and proposals and outlines for five! I see this happen all the time. Once someone sees that they can DO it, they want to keep doing it. Adopt that mindset NOW even if you are still writing Book #1. Again, writing is a long game. You’re going to be in this for a long time. So think long term! Think big!]
Q: Any advice for people in the midst of finishing their first books?
A: Do it! You are going to feel so good after. Stay committed and stick to your deadlines. If I did it, anyone can do it!