Book Marketing Now: Anne Liu Kellor
Anne Liu Kellor, author of HEART RADICAL: A SEARCH FOR LANGUAGE, LOVE, & BELONGING shares her tips for marketing personal stories and developing a community as well as an audience.
Welcome to Book Marketing Now, a monthly feature of Books, Marketing, & More where I share interviews with writers about their marketing and publishing journey as they share the inside scoop on releasing books into the current market! Check out past interviews with Namina Forna, Tara Sullivan, Andrea Wang, Heather Kelly, Rachel Sarah, Aileen Weintraub & Diana Whitney, and Rajani LaRocca
“Richly absorbing, deeply moving... insightful, riveting and beautifully written.”
—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
Anne Liu Kellor’s lush, intimate memoir, Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging, takes the reader on a journey to China as Anne discovers her own voice and reckons with the ideas of heritage and home, language and self. Her publishing journey was also a long one, taking fifteen years of writing, revising, community building, and self-advocacy.
Here Anne draws on her deep experience to share how she writes and markets personal stories; balances her literary and academic pursuits; worked with an independent publicist; and how collaborating and lifting up others is critical to successful book marketing.
You can also check out Anne’s upcoming readings and talks, including her conversation with Stacy Scheel Hirsch on Nov. 4th (Browser’s Bookshop) and panel with three other mixed race artists on Nov. 6th (Seattle JACL), both via Zoom.
Who do you see as the audience for your book? What is the best way you’ve found to reach them?
My book has multiple audiences. On one hand, I am largely targeting other mixed-race folks and Asian Americans, mostly through various Facebook groups and friends I’ve made in these groups throughout the years. I also have built up a large community of students and fellow writers in Seattle through teaching workshops at Hugo House, a nonprofit literary center. And since my memoir is a coming-of-age story about a woman in her twenties, traveling back to her roots and trying to claim her voice, I think it can appeal to a lot of people. So I have multiple audiences: but especially mixed-race folks, Asian Americans, spiritual seekers, and women.
I’ve been building a network of online and in-person friends for many years. I went through 15 years of editing and submitting my memoir, which of course at times made me want to give up, but in retrospect it also gave me the time to make genuine connections. To not feel like I was just suddenly asking everyone to pay attention to me, but that I had also taken the time to share their work and uplift them. So when I finally started asking others for help, a lot of people were willing to interview me, pitch reviews to outlets, or just to share my work. This has felt so good; it feels not so much about “marketing,” but about mutual aid and reciprocity.
How have you balanced the necessity of marketing a memoir with the personal nature of the subject matter?
As a longtime writer and teacher, I have a lot of practice writing and sharing vulnerable material. So by now, it comes pretty naturally for me to be able to talk about tender aspects of my story in public. In fact, one of the most exciting parts of the marketing process for me has been writing and pitching companion essays and interviews.
I feel this has given me the chance to push deeper into themes in the memoir that I wasn’t able to do justice to in the book—or that my older self can now articulate better than the younger me who wrote most of the book. It’s like I’ve been able to create a parallel body of work. And maybe this has helped me feel not as vulnerable about putting out a book that is largely written through my younger voice and lens. Older me has been able to publicly dialogue with younger me, and make the point that our perspectives keep evolving, that the book you write is only one version of your story, written at one point in time—it does not represent the whole of you; in the end it is a carefully crafted work of art.
Also, as an introvert who normally leans towards intimate personal posts on social media versus overt self-promotion with copious hashtags, it proved to be a super helpful strategy to stagger out my events. Each event requires a lot of promotion to draw in people—and that requires a lot of energy to post in multiple places online, and later for the body to come down off each high and process afterwards.
While more launch events should be concentrated towards the beginning, it was necessary for me to wait a week or so between the larger events, to build in rest days to recover, or to take whole weeks off. Spreading out events made it easier to promote one thing at a time so that my events weren’t competing for attention with each other, and so that I didn’t burn out too quickly and could give each event my genuine care and attention. This strategy requires one to be thoughtful about not scheduling too much or saying yes to every opportunity; us introverts especially must know when to say no and prioritize our own self-care.
What made you decide to hire an independent publicist and how did that impact your publicity efforts?
Since I published with She Writes, a hybrid press, all of the marketing efforts fall on the authors. I didn’t have the budget for a big marketing campaign, and nor did I trust it would be worth it. I did know that I wanted help though, that I only have so many hours in the day and so many connections. So I hired a woman who was recommended by another author, and she worked on an hourly basis for me for about 20 hours, mostly concentrated 5-6 months pre-pub, when my ARCs came out. She queried her contacts cold-pitched a lot of literary journals, and ended up getting me on some great lists with Ms. Magazine and The Millions, and some other nice connections. Many places still look down on hybrid presses, so optically it helped me seem more legit to have a publicist as a point of contact. Psychologically, it helped so much to have someone who knows the industry to help me with my query materials and give advice when needed.
In the end, I created my own one sheet and hired others to help me with some graphics and my website, but I landed the majority of my press myself; I both had help and hustled my butt off as project manager. But it was invaluable to not feel like I was completely alone in my efforts.
How has the pandemic affected your marketing?
For someone who doesn’t have much time or money to travel, in some ways I was relieved that the option to do an in-person book tour was removed from me, and that I was stuck making the best of online marketing. I did, however, have a few of my book events scheduled to be in person and we had to change them back to zoom, so that made me worry that I wouldn’t be able to draw enough people to each event since they’d no longer be location-sensitive.
But I also tried to make sure that my events were varied—for example, some are panels that feature other mixed-race artists; others are in conversation with well-loved writers who will draw their own crowd; and some aim to offer practical information, for example a publishing panel for alum from Antioch University Los Angeles, my MFA alma mater. I tried to be realistic about the fact that my personal fans might only come to one of my events, so how could I appeal to new audiences?
How has writing and marketing a memoir impacted your other creative endeavors?
I continue to teach exclusively online for now, and while most of my classes last for eight or ten weeks or one is even a full year, I’ve also started to offer some new ones that are just a few hours so people who are new to my work can get to know me with a lower-stakes commitment. Most of my recent writing has been for interviews and companion essays, but even these have felt like important ways for me to process and create new material that can feed into future essays.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out when it comes to marketing themselves?
Make friends! If you are a woman or nonbinary, look for Facebook Binders writing groups to join. Keep expanding your writing community. Make genuine connections and support others, share their writing online—even authors that seem like they are doing well appreciate other writers amplifying their voice (there is a ton of work and self-doubt behind any author who seemingly has “made it”). You never know where a connection will lead you, so treat people with kindness and generosity. Not because you want them to help you, but because this makes life feel better.
For example, I have a former student who I used to give ideas to for places to pitch, and now I am turning to them for contacts. I don’t see this world—this world of independent women authors supporting other women authors—as a hierarchy. Anyone who struggles to make it here knows that it takes a lot of mutual help and solidarity. The people you want in your community for the long haul will not look down on others just starting out, just as we hope that those further along will not disparage us for asking for help as well.
Finally, any tea recommendations for us?
I used to drink tea, primarily green or jasmine Chinese tea, but now I mostly drink coffee. I should probably switch back to tea to come down from the constant stimulation!
Anne Liu Kellor is a mixed-race Chinese American writer, editor, and teacher. Her essays have appeared in YES! Magazine, Longreads, Fourth Genre, Witness, New England Review, Entropy, The Normal School, Vela Magazine, Los Angeles Review, Literary Mama, and many more. She is the recipient of fellowships from Hedgebrook, Seventh Wave, Jack Straw Writers Program, 4Culture, and Hypatia-in-the-Woods. Anne teaches writing workshops and leads writing retreats across the Pacific Northwest. She also facilitates a year-long creative nonfiction manuscript program for women and nonbinary writers seeking mentorship and community. Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging is her first book.
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Happy reading & writing!
Allison Pottern Hoch has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and as a writing/marketing coach for authors. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea.
Upcoming Virtual Workshop — NOV. 13th: Writing Like a Parent, Parenting Like a Writer
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