A few weeks ago, Facebook sent a reminder about my 2010 hike up Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. The hike was a backup plan. We were supposed to go white water rafting, but a recent hurricane made the rivers too dangerous for boating. So up the mountain we went.
The climb included two rope sections and ten vertical ladders.
Standing atop the 5,956-foot summit, I felt so strong and capable. It was like I’d arrived at some pinnacle where life would always and forever be wonderful.
For a long time, I believed traditionally publishing a book would be another form of arrival. In my dreams, nailing a big-five deal meant a literary happily ever after filled with fame, fortune, and a slew of bestsellers.
Professors touted traditional publishing as the only viable option a real writer would consider.
Snide comments about vanity presses and “less talented” self-published authors reinforced these beliefs.
Back in 2010, most hybrid publishers were vanity presses who charged large sums of money to would-be authors eager to see their name in print. Many didn’t quality-check their submissions. If you had the funds, your book was added to their print cycle. Sadly, there are still vanity presses that operate under this model.
I’ve also encountered writers more interested in calling themselves authors than taking the time to ensure the quality of their books.
But the world of publishing has changed so much in the past eleven years.
I’ve spent time with writers whose big-five deals were a dream come true and others who discovered it wasn’t the peak experience they’d hoped for.
I’ve also known writers who launched great careers with books published by small presses and indie authors who’ve outsold books on the New York Times Bestsellers list.
Then there are the authors who’ve achieved their literary dreams by publishing through reputable hybrid publishers like She Writes Press.
This Sunday, I’ll query my book with an agent during the James River Writer’s Conference. Additional queries will soon go out to more agents. While I’m currently pursuing the traditional publishing path, authors like Corie Adjm reveal that success comes in many forms. To make my publishing dreams a reality, I need to keep my options open.
Corie was initially one of my clients. By the time we met, her fiction and short stories had been published in numerous literary magazines and won prestigious awards. When we worked together, her goal was to attract a traditional publisher, but along the way, she changed her mind.
Her first book Life and Other Short Comings was published in 2020 through She Writes Press. This short story collection was a 2020 winner of the International Book Award, an American Fiction Award, and an IBPA: Ben Franklin Award. She’s been interviewed in Publishers Weekly, Book Club Chat, and The Hollywood Times, which called her book a “travel must-read.”
Over the last eighteen months, I’ve delighted in seeing pictures of her book on independent bookstore shelves and celebrated the publication doors that have opened for her.
I’m deeply grateful Corie made time for this interview.
When we first met, you were seeking an agent and looking for a traditional publisher. Eventually, you decided to publish your award-winning short story collection Life and Other Short Comings through She Writes Press. What made you decide to work with a hybrid publisher?
Before we met, I had an agent and things just didn’t work out with her. I never thought that would happen. I was so grateful to have an agent at all, plus I’m pretty easy-going, but we didn’t work in the same way and the relationship proved too frustrating for me to continue. When I decided to move on, I thought the next step was to find another, more compatible agent. While on that journey, I discovered She Writes Press (SWP). I loved the idea of hybrid publishing and having more control over the destiny of my book, so I submitted my manuscript. When I received Track 1, Ready to Go! as a response to my submission I knew I was where I needed to be.
For a long time, hybrid publishers have gotten a bad rep. And there are certainly some to avoid, but I’ve always heard good things about She Writes Press. Can you tell us about your experience with SWP?
When I submitted Life and Other Shortcomings, SWP had just been awarded Indie Publisher of the Year. Brooke Warner, She Writes Press’s editor, is a powerhouse. I loved her thoughts on writing, the publishing industry, and her Ted Talk on greenlighting your book.
There is a sisterhood at SWP that creates an instant community. The comradery and support have been an added bonus. Both Brooke Warner and Lauren Wise, my project manager, are super professional and good at what they do. They’re responsive and straightforward—qualities that are important to me.
Top-notch editors and project managers are a huge asset when working with a publishing house. Not everyone gets them both. It sounds like you’ve definitely found the right home for your book.
As a fiction writer, what role does your author platform play in your writing life? What parts of your platform led to book sales?
Lisa, you are the one who taught me about being a good literary citizen. I’d never heard the term before. When I first joined Instagram, it was a whole new world. I didn’t know what to share, so I engaged slowly by liking other people’s posts. Occasionally, I’d comment, but mostly I studied other authors.
It took a while for me to understand that if I posted the image of a book I was reading and tagged the author, I wasn’t bothering them. In fact, they appreciated the added attention.
Authors must protect their time so that they have the energy to write. That means I barely post on Facebook or Twitter. On those platforms, I amplify the voices I admire and support other writer by liking posts and retweeting important messages.
Instagram is the platform I enjoy most. I’ve come to see how much I appreciate content from specific people I follow. Some make me laugh. Others provide information or they’re educational. Developing an Instagram relationship is kind of like dating or making a new friend. First, you like a post or two. Then you comment. Soon you’re in a conversation. Over time, you discover what that person stands for or believes. Then you support one another on your writing journeys, see family photos, and learn where they go and what they read.
In the lead-up to the launch of Life and Other Shortcomings I used my Instagram account to reach readers and ask people to support me and my book. And they did—often in the form of preorders! A few days after Life and Other Shortcomings was published, Brooke reported that my preorders had dwindled my inventory so much they had to print more books.
Wow, Corie, that is a huge success story! And yay for literary citizenship! It reminds me of what Ashleigh Renard, author of the memoir Swing, said about the importance of educating your audience about presales. She also did a lot of literary citizenship in the years leading up to her book launch. This is just another example of why it’s so important to help other writers.
You’re part of a large Jewish community, and many—if not all—of the characters in Life and Other Short Comings are Jewish women. What role did this community play in your author platform and in your book launch?
Three out of four of my grandparents were from Aleppo, Syria. I grew up in New Orleans, but I now live amongst the Syrian Jews in New York. This community was extremely supportive. Historically, we haven’t been a community of writers, and I think people felt a sense of pride with the publication of Life and Other Shortcomings. There was a collective we did it! People in this community were so curious and had so many questions. What did she write? Is it any good? Am I in it? Are we in it? Their excitement made the launch special, lively, and thrilling.
I love hearing about how the Syrian Jewish community supported you through the launch. While it’s great to have a large audience, I would imagine those personal connections made it even more meaningful.
Life and Other Short Comings explores the various roles women play and the challenges they face. When writing your book, did you consider the conversations it would be a part of?
No, none of that was in my mind while I wrote. I was totally focused on one thing—writing something good. After compiling the stories, I saw how themes within the collection like domestic abuse, patriarchy, gaslighting, infidelity, and cultural ideas around female aging were part of a larger discussion around women’s empowerment. These are the conversations I want to have, the ones I find interesting and pertinent. When you write about what is important to you, most likely it will be important to others. I think this is why Life and Other Shortcomings has turned out to be a great conversation starter and Book Club Pick.
After reading your book, I’m not surprised it’s a Book Club Pick. There are so many things to think about. I also love how you’ve kept the conversation going through essays you’ve written, such as “I Became a Doula So I Could Be at My Grandchild’s Birth During Covid,” and “I Feel Guilty Writing About Flawed Jewish Characters.
Your second book, The Marriage Box, will be published by SWP on August 2, 2022. Is this book geared toward the same audience as Life and Other Shortcomings or are you targeting a different set of readers?
Readers who liked Life and Other Shortcomings will also enjoy The Marriage Box. Life and Other Shortcomings contains Jewish characters, but I never specifically mention the Syrian Jewish community. Readers interested in learning about different lifestyles, and those who want to be immersed in a foreign world, will appreciate The Marriage Box. They will experience the Syrian Jewish community’s varied traditions, not to mention, the book’s eccentric, wonderful, and maddening characters. Both Life and Other Shortcomings and The Marriage Box are alike in tone. Both are about relationships and use humor to explore themes around marriage, family, friendship, tradition, and patriarchy.
I love that your new book gives us an insider’s view of the Syrian Jewish Community and its culture. It gives you a chance to celebrate your heritage and the people who supported you while also giving all of us a broader view of the people who come from Syria—an area that’s frequently in the news, but largely talked about in a singular way.
What lessons did you learn as a debut author that will inform your next book launch?
What works differs from one author to another. I’ve learned to let go and accept that I can’t be good at everything. There are so many things one can do to promote a book: write and place essays in prestigious magazines, create a weekly newsletter, start a podcast, share daily Instagram posts, reels, and stories, engage on Twitter and Facebook, author weekly blog posts, build a community and be a good literary citizen, do radio, TV, and written interviews, and participate in live book talks. And so much more!! Just writing that list is exhausting. I’m amazed by writers who seem to be able to do it all. I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea of working hard and just doing what I can.
Phew! That list is now swirling through my head. I’m so glad you’ve come to a place where you can be kind to yourself and accept your limitations. Good enough is good enough. And I think the key for all of us is to figure out how to work smarter rather than harder by focusing on our skills and what we find important. It sounds like you’re accomplishing that goal.
What advice do you have for fiction writers when it comes to their author platforms?
Authenticity. I decide who to follow on Instagram by that factor alone. If the site is honest, I’m in. Just like in real life, I want to be around people who aren’t afraid to show their shortcomings, reveal their dreams, and share their hopes. I’m no author platform maven, but if you stop reading this interview for a minute and follow me on Instagram, maybe I could become one. In the meantime, be real. Show up. Do your best and learn from others. Be kind, genuine, and offer something—a poignant quote, a delicious recipe, an essay you’ve published— and your platform will grow.
What are you reading?
Short Stories: Big Time by Jen Spyra. We are on a panel together at a Jewish Community Center event in Cherry Hill, NJ in November.
Fiction: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Non-fiction: Israel by Noa Tishby
What a fabulous list! BTW, you’re the second person today who’s mentioned Noa Tishby’s book. I’m adding it to my reading list.
What’s next for you?
The Marriage Box will be published in August 2022, so I have a lot of work to do between now and then. I’ll continue to write a monthly newsletter, participate in book talks and interviews, show up on Instagram, and write essays. My biggest upcoming challenge is creating video content, which I’ve discovered is a great way to connect with readers. I recently attended Ashleigh Renard’s webinar on creating video content. We all have a lot we can learn from her. And then, of course, I plan on publishing another novel. This one’s a family drama that’s a bit of a thriller.