Book Marketing Now: Ben Berman
BEN BERMAN, author, poet, and parent, shares his new collection of essays WRITING WHILE PARENTING; how he finds balance in writing, marketing, and parenting; and how to be a good literary citizen
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Every child is an artist, writes Picasso. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. Writing poems returns us to the restless imagination of our inner child: we grow tired of looking at the clouds and want, instead, to imagine what they look like.
—Ben Berman, Writing While Parenting
The push and pull of the writing and parenting identities is a topic near and dear to my heart. Heck, I’ve written about it before and am leading a seminar on this very topic in May. So you can understand how thrilled I am to feature award-winning poet, parent, and fellow Grubbie, Ben Berman, and his new book, Writing While Parenting, in which he touchingly forges joy and poetry from the intimate mundanities of life and parenthood.
Below, Ben digs into his pitch to editors and readers, his writing schedule, balancing parenting and marketing (spoiler: bribe the kids), and being a good literary citizen.
Want to hear more from Ben? Attend his virtual Able Muse Book Launch Reading on April 30th or seek him out at the Newburyport Literary Festival or Mass Poetry Festival!
Want to talk about how you can make space in your head and your life for writing when you’re also a parent? The struggle is real. Join me for a low-key, two-part virtual seminar this May: “Writing Like a Parent, Parenting Like a Writer” through the MetroWest Writer’s Guild.
How did you initially market Writing While Parenting to your publisher? How has that approach changed, now that you’re marketing to readers?
Able Muse Press published my first two books of poems, so I already had a strong relationship with them when I submitted Writing While Parenting. I think I originally pitched it with this line from one of the essays:
Writing is utter solitude, writes Kafka, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. But I can’t even pee these days without my two-year-old banging on the door, demanding to watch me make bubbles.
The book, of course, is about much more than the desire to pee in peace. But I think those lines capture the tone of the essays.
The key thing that I try to stress when marketing it to readers is that this is a book of humorous and literary essays – not a self-help book – that explores the challenges of pursuing a creative passion when you don’t always have time for it.
Writing While Parenting looks at the innate poetry of being a parent, whether it’s a child’s turn of phrase, the joy they take in small things, or the tensions of being a parent and an artist. How do you find that parenthood has influenced the way you market and talk about your works?
In many ways, I actually think of poetry and parenting as opposing forces, and part of the fun of writing these essays was looking for literature in the least literary material possible. My two-year-old would run into the living room and try to ruin whatever her four-year-old sister was quietly working on, and I would think to myself, okay, how can I relate this to Derrida’s thoughts on deconstruction?
I love telling stories about my daughters because everyone enjoys funny anecdotes about the crazy things that kids say and do. But the goal was to transform those humorous anecdotes into more serious meditations on writing. For me, it was all about blurring the lines between the silly and serious, the profane and the profound, about making room for both reverence and irreverence. And I hope that comes across both in the book and in the way that I talk about the book.
The struggle to find time to pee in peace is real, not to mention finding time for all the different aspects of being a writer. What does your writing and marketing schedule look like as a poet-parent?
I try to limit the impact of my writing life on my family as much as I can. The last essay in the book is titled (spoiler alert!): “Explaining to My Daughters Why I Wake Up at Three Every Morning to Write”, which pretty much captures my writing routine.
Marketing is a little more complicated. I can do some of it in the early hours, but most events tend to take place in the evenings or on the weekends. I used to feel guilty for doing book events because my younger daughter would protest (sometimes quite passionately) every time she saw me getting ready to go out. Then one evening – when she was around four – she saw me preparing my poetry briefcase, and pumped her fist in the air then proclaimed: Aww yeah! Bring out the videos and candy. Turns out that videos and candy are the secret to marketing while parenting.
What communities, networks, and experts have helped you in your marketing efforts?
I love this question because I think it speaks to the importance of being a good literary citizen!
Many of the networks that have helped with marketing are communities that I have belonged to for years. I originally wrote many of these essays for GrubStreet, which gave me a platform and helped me find an audience before the book came out. A lot of my promotional events involve connecting with the wonderful literary communities of Massachusetts – The Newburyport Literary Festival, the Mass Poetry Festival, the Cape Cod Writers Center, the Solstice MFA program, Solstice Literary Magazine etc.
And because this is ultimately a book about writing, I also reached out to literary journals that focus on the craft of writing – Brevity, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hippocampus Magazine – and found them incredibly helpful and supportive.
What advice would you give to new parents wondering how to balance writing, marketing, and parenting?
First, I would say that when you are a new parent, just getting dinner on the table feels like a major win. So remember to count your Ws in whatever way you can.
Second, everyone’s life is different so take my advice with a grain of salt. But one thing that I’ve found helpful is to make a list of all the possible marketing approaches and to only focus on the ones that feel most meaningful and manageable.
For example, I know that I love writing and that it’s something I can do in the early mornings without impacting my wife and kids. So part of my marketing strategy with Writing While Parenting has included writing companion pieces for various outlets and participating in written interviews (like this one – thank you, Allison!)
I also love giving readings, but I don’t love having to relentlessly promote events to get people to attend. So other than my book launch (which The Brookline Booksmith was kind enough to host), I’ve scheduled most of my readings through literary festivals or in reading series where there is already a built in audience.
My last piece of advice is more about mindset than action. I love writing – I love being awake in the dark, grasping on to whatever solitude I can find, my mind wandering the strange neighborhoods of my mind. Marketing is a more complex emotional venture for me. It is exciting, of course, but it can also make me feel competitive and jealous, anxious and vulnerable. So one thing that I’ve found helpful is simply to always be working on new writing projects. It’s one more thing that I don’t have time for, but it’s also the thing that rejuvenates me.
Finally, what tea (or comforting beverage!) has helped you get through the writing/marketing process?
Because I teach full time and have two young daughters, I tend to write in the early hours before anyone else is awake, sipping a bottomless cup of coffee, my mind traveling back and forth between thoughts and dreams.
But most of my book events take place in the evenings – after a full day of parenting then teaching then back to more parenting – and before those events, I like to sip hot water with a little bit of honey to soothe my throat.
Follow Ben Berman:
Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Upcoming Events
To order Writing While Parenting:
Bookshop.org | Brookline Booksmith | Barnes & Noble | Able Muse Press
Ben Berman is the author of three books of poems and the new book of essays, Writing While Parenting. He has won the Peace Corps Award for the Best Book of Poetry, has twice been shortlisted twice for the Massachusetts Book Awards and has received awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, New England Poetry Club and Somerville Arts Council. He’s been teaching for over twenty years and currently teaches creative writing classes at Brookline High School. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.
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Happy reading & writing!
Writer & Marketing Coach
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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.
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