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Kelly I. Hitchcock Posts

Authors, stop comparing yourself to Bookstagrammers

I have a little more than four weeks left until Community Klepto comes out, which means I have to spend a lot more time paying attention to social media. To prepare for upcoming podcast interviews, I’m listening to episodes with other authors to get a feel for the aesthetic and the kinds of questions they might ask me, and then also seeing how authors and the media are promoting their episodes.

Algorithms working the way they work means that you’ll start to see the author, their book, or both everywhere. Every other book stack contains that book that you just heard about 5 minutes ago for the first time, but all of a sudden the book has exploded and gone viral. That’s when you start to wonder… why isn’t my book everywhere? Why don’t I have a different Instagram live author salon every hour for the next four weeks? Am I really the talentless hack I feel like when I read my own book for the 800th time and find a typo I missed the first 799 times?!

Okay, so maybe that one’s just my own impostor syndrome projections, being so close to pub for this novel and deep in the dreaded saggy middle of writing the next one. But we’ve all been there, wanting to call the printer at the 11th hour and stop the presses because the book’s no good, right? Well, it’s too late now. The books are already in the warehouse and it’s time to put an end to this pity party of one and give myself a pep talk.

Here’s why I need to stop comparing myself to influencer authors on Instagram, and you should too.

No one’s the overnight success they appear to be.

Behind every celebrity-status author you think rose to stardom with a book that came out of nowhere is a human being who was rejected by 100 other agents and publishers, who submitted the same short story to open reading periods for three years in a row before it got accepted somewhere.

And the reason you suddenly start seeing a book everywhere is because algorithms work. They know it takes a number of impressions before you’ll take action and buy the book, and they also know a lot about you. It’s the same reason you search for a shoe you’ve never heard of and then you start seeing ads for it everywhere. And several of the social media platforms are pay to play. You’re seeing the book everywhere because someone is paying for it to be seen everywhere.

Which brings me to my next pep talk…

They pay for the exposure, too.

Anyone who tries to say publicity is free is full of shit. I interviewed several book publicists as part of my book journey for Community Klepto, and not a one of them offered to work for me for free. Even the big New York book publishers only invest marketing dollars into a book that they think they will make their money back on. Even authors who finally land that big 4 book deal with a sweet advance aren’t promised much, if anything, in publicity and marketing budget.

So who pays? The author, usually. Book bloggers might enjoy the perks of getting a mailbox full of free books every week, but they’re also in it for the money. No one buys a book they’ve never heard of, and getting your name and title heard will cost you.

And lest we forget…

Instagram isn’t real life.

Neither is Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or whatever the hell the new-new thing is that I won’t hear about until the olds take it over. No one posts their rejection letters on Instagram (not all of them, anyway – some of them make for good entertainment; I once got a rejection for a book that wasn’t even mine). No one live streams the hours they spend rewriting the same sentence 20 times. No one makes a reel of all the pitches they make that go completely unanswered, but I’m willing to bet there’s a lot.

For all those live events that seem to happen every hour for those authors I see over and over, there are plenty of them with single-digit audiences. For every TikTok, there’s a quick shirt change and parting the hair on the other side between filming five 1-minute videos while the kids are upstairs watching Disney Plus because we don’t have time or energy to spend doing our hair and makeup for something spontaneous (at least I don’t).

Okay – pity party’s over. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna suck it up and make the most of my release because I have to out-earn my publicity spend!

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Two more events (that makes it a tour, right?)

I’ve just confirmed that I’ll be adding two more in-person events for Community Klepto on top of my book launch party at BookWoman in Austin, TX!

On Thursday, July 14 (Happy Bastille Day), I’ll be doing a reading, Q&A and book signing at Flagship Books in Kansas City, KS, my old stomping grounds and the part of the city where I got lost the most often.

On Sunday, July 17, I’ll be doing a reading, Q&A and book signing at Barnes & Noble in Springfield, MO, my old college town. I used to hang out here all the time in high school with the people I classified as the cool kids… because they were my kids. And we weren’t old enough to drink yet.

More details to come!

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Why I’m reviewing books on TikTok from now on

As I’ve been ramping up publicity and marketing for Community Klepto in advance of its release into the world in less than three months (eep!), every industry expert has been saying that I need to be on TikTok. There is a whole #BookTok subculture there that someone like me who is (barely) under 40 can tap into, especially since the protagonist in my book is 25.

I’ve resisted TikTok the same way I resisted Instagram because I felt like I was too old for it and I didn’t get it, plus I didn’t need yet another time-waster that keeps me from writing new stuff, reading other books, or building my audience… it’s also why I’m the last person on the planet to do Wordle. But I begrudgingly signed up and started seeing what was out there on BookTok and where I might fit in.

The answer for me is a new way for me to review books. I used to always write book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon after every book I finished, and after a while it became tedious and unenjoyable for me, so I stopped, only taking time to review those books that would truly benefit from the review. I feel like static text reviews, while important for a book’s visibility and growth, don’t vary much from person to person. You’ll have a few people that really liked it, a few that really hated it, and a bunch of people in the middle. And over time, every book normalizes to an average rating of 3 and change no matter how many reviews it has.

Being a good literary citizen means sharing love for books I read, especially ones by authors who don’t have a large following. But as I always say – books are, and should be – subjective. Even a super glowing review of a book rarely factors into a purchase decision for me. I know what I like, and if something appeals to me, a review is probably going to do much to sway me. Similarly, if someone I know really cares about my individual opinion about a book, they’ll ask me, and I’d much rather talk about it in person anyway. So, enter TikTok.

In our house, we have a large record collection that my husband spent the first part of the year logging and inventorying, so I’m taking advantage of that and pairing every book I read with a record in my vinyl collection, and then pairing (or is it tripling?) that with a booze drink that represents the book. So for each book I review on TikTok, it will have a companion album and a companion drink. (Did I mention I like booze?) I’m still new at it, so I’ve got a lot to learn about TikTok and building a following there, but I get to do something different and really play up the comedic timing in video that doesn’t play the same in text. And I probably spend more time sitting in front of my keyboard trying to think about what to write up in a review anyway. Might as well fix my hair and show off my rainbow bookshelf in the process.

I’ve just posted my first TikTok as @kellyhitchcockpairings, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I keep enjoying it, and I can find pockets of uninterrupted time in my own house.

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Book launch party is ON!

When I signed my contract for Community Klepto in September 2020, I said to my publisher “surely we’ll be able to have an in-person book launch in June 2022”. Well, it was close, but it’s happening! I’ll be at BookWoman Austin on 5501 N Lamar Blvd on Monday, July 11 at 7 P.M. There’ll be more in person and online events to come, so stay tuned!

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My year of reading Stephen King (et al)

Before 2021, I had never read a single Stephen King novel. The only Stephen King work I had read was “On Writing,” which was required reading in the same college creative writing classes I took which told us if you write genre fiction (like King) you are sellout trash. (I’m paraphrasing of course).

Every October, however, I indulge in a month-long binge of horror movies, and in 2020 I watched all adaptations of Stephen King novels, wondering to myself why I’d never read a single one even though I knew I enjoyed the movies. (This year, notably, I watched the entire Friday the 13th series and did not come close to enjoying them all.) The answer, of course, is that it was hammered into me that commercial fiction like King’s wasn’t worth my time.

Of course that’s a ridiculous notion. Commercial fiction is successful for a reason – people like it! People read it! I dismissed silly things like romance novels as having no literary merit, forgetting the fact that my favorite author of all time – John Updike – wrote some highly pornographic shit. Just because it’s Pulitzer porn doesn’t make it any less porn. King is arguably the most successful commercial author of my lifetime, and for the first time I felt like I was missing out on something, so I decided to spend the year reading as many Stephen King novels as I could – helped by the fact that my public library had pretty much all of them for free.

I read 19 (and a half – I’m nearly halfway through the 3rd book in the Dark Tower Series) Stephen King novels in 2021 – and here are my drawn conclusions:

  • My favorite: 11/22/63. It was the most compelling story for me, and I loved watching it all unfold.
  • Honorable mentions: The Stand, The Outsider, and The Dead Zone. Yes, I listened to all 47 hours of the newest mega-edition of The Stand.
  • My least favorite: Gerald’s Game. I’m glad she survived and all, but fuck that book.
  • Dishonorable mentions: Rose Madder and The Long Walk
  • Every woman in King’s books has to have perfect boobs because in the real world, women don’t have perfect boobs.
  • I bristled at hearing the N word used so often, but it just goes to show how recently that kind of speech wasn’t a big deal in commercial fiction.

I’ve also made a point to discard another indoctrination from my college days – if I don’t enjoy a book, I will no longer power through and finish it. Life is too short to feel read things I don’t like. If I don’t want to keep reading after 100 pages, I don’t.

Outside of Stephen King, I read 55 books and had a goal of only 35. My top 5, in no particular order, were:

  • Hollow by Owen Egerton
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
  • House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
  • Self Care by Leigh Stein

Here’s my 2021 Goodreads reading challenge, in case you’re curious.

My goal for 2022 is to read 60 books, and hopefully none of them are my own, because I am tired of reading it! And I will keep working my way through Stephen King’s backlist, even if I hate the way he talks about every woman having perfect boobs, because his work still has a great deal of literary merit (not Gerald’s Game, though).

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My least favorite part of this book process…

Earlier this week I got my design pages from my publisher! Not only is it a wonderful preview of what my book will look like in print (sans cover), it’s also my last chance to make any edits. In meetings with my publisher and other authors in my cohort, I knew it was coming, and I also was told repeatedly of two things I could do to make sure I was catching any last minute typos: 1) print my design pages on brightly colored paper and 2) read the printed pages out loud.

I think even your average author despises the sound of their own voice (good thing David Sedaris is not average… I can’t imagine anyone else reading his audiobooks). Because I have a speech impediment (stuttering), I hate listening to the sound of my own voice more than most, because the sound of my own voice – even when I am by myself in the master bedroom, because it is the only room in the house with interior locks, after draining my Buc-ees mug of coffee with Bailey’s – is sometimes a legit battle.

But since I can fit the amount of things I know about the business side of books into one tiny pinky nail, I trusted their word and printed out my design pages on bright yellow paper… because it was second cheapest. (Salmon was cheapest… but I just can’t bring myself to stare at that much pink while I read out loud.)

And as much as I would like for this blog post to be a refutation of my publisher’s recommendation… goddammit they were right. I’ve probably read this manuscript at least 20 times and have done so with the eagle eye I’ve been told I have on multiple professional occasions. And yet, by reading it on piss yellow paper in my wavering stutter, I’ve already found missing words, transposed words, and an entire section in the wrong verb tense… and this is AFTER the proofreaders did their worst.

So, I’m going to fumble over my words and finish reading this super-yellow manuscript out loud until page 277, because I am magically catching things I should have caught years ago, and because it’s making my book a better book. Even when I can’t pronounce words that begin with R.

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It only takes one rejection…

Writers deal with a lot of rejection. Years, sometimes decades of rejection. And when they discouraged, their fellow rejectees bolster them up with the same refrain: It only takes one yes.

Sadly, the inverse is also true. It only takes one stinging rejection for all the impostor syndrome to creep back in. I’m lucky in that while I’ve had my fair share of manuscript rejections in the past year, I’ve also had a lot of yeses. This year, I’ve had 3 essays published, a poem, a flash fiction piece, and my third novel is crawling along to its June 2022 publication date.

I recently entered a contest for both fiction and poetry for an all-writer voted publication. Everyone who submits also votes on the submissions, the best from each round move on to the next one, and the top 30 submissions make it into the final issue.

I entered round 1 with 3 of my best poems and a short story I haven’t touched in years, thinking that as a serious, multiply-published author, surely I could crack the top 30 with both my submissions.

Well, I didn’t. My short story finished 131 out of 221, and my poems finished 147 out of 239. I didn’t even make it past the first round, and I read some very weak submissions in the first round. I felt immediately dejected. How could I possibly expect to publish and have any level of commercial success with my novel if I couldn’t even have a short story in the top half of a contest? It wasn’t too late to call my publisher and stop the train and go back to the drawing board. It’s not like I deserved that yes!

But that’s the thing about pity parties. They never last long. And I read the nice feedback I got from the writers who read and ranked my submissions in round 1, and all the criticism was totally fair. And prose and poetry are both incredibly subjective, as they should be. In round 1, one writer ranked my poems the best… another, the worst.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself and listening to those negative thoughts about not being good enough, instead I’m going to be happy for the winners because (the ones I read and voted on anyway) their work was really good. I’m going to look forward to reading the final issue with the top 30 stories and poems because I bet it will be amazing. And I’ll keep grinding away at my work and submit something even better next time.

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