Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report
When health professor Ann Garvin, 58, of Madison, Wis. challenged herself to write and publish her first novel, she never imagined that it would spark a burning desire to become a career novelist.
But in 2009, after two years of carving out stolen moments to pen her first manuscript, and after “one year, seventy-five query letters, numerous pitch conferences and conversations with industry professionals,” Garvin finally acquired an agent and landed a book deal. She’s written three books to date including I Like You When You’re Not Around and The Dog Year.
“It’s thrilling, humbling and exhausting to launch a book into the world.”
Along the way, Garvin discovered, research bears out that the odds are stacked against women. “I realized that a male author’s first book advances and publicity packages were more dramatic than those of female debut authors,” says Garvin. Beyond the financial gender gap, “what makes publishing particularly difficult for women is that women still bear the larger burden of raising a family and taking care of aging parents, while holding down a job and writing and marketing our books,” she explains.
Garvin saw how women authors struggled to reach their target audience without an expensive publicist, and says, “I pondered over how many women have the stick-to-itiveness to
persevere in the face of so many other priorities.”
Elevating the Entire Group
One of the biggest hurdles in Garvin’s journey as a writer was navigating the publishing world — from securing an agent and getting book deals to building a loyal readers’ community. So, she wanted to help other women writers find their way more easily, which led Garvin to establish the Tall Poppy Writers (TPW), the first U. S. author-driven marketing cooperative. According to Garvin, the name is based somewhat on a story from mythology, but primarily means that if a tall poppy is left to grow, the other poppies surrounding it will want to grow as high as they can.
For the 50 core female career novelists who are Tall Poppy members, it has become about more than marketing. Collectively, they have an audience reach that has grown to 500,000 and many of its authors have 10,000 to 11,000 Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram followers.
Garvin created a winning team of women writers committed to donating their time and talent to build individual members’ careers, as well as to elevate the entire group, by handling the marketing, media, partnerships, team management, social media and legal matters.
The Tall Poppies stay connected in several ways including a private Facebook group; Google Docs; Slack (a secure channel for group discussions and private messaging); group emails; book promotions and collaborations. But social media channels can’t replace Poppycon.
Poppycon: A Business Meeting and Sleepover
Every year, Poppies fly to Chicago from all over the U.S. for Poppycon to reconnect, rekindle friendships, plan and discuss initiatives. This year, the event runs from October 24 to 26.
“Poppycon is an offsite business meeting and sleepover party with wine and gourmet food in an Airbnb mansion,” explains Garvin. “Afterwards, you feel re-energized and focused. It’s such a blast and you accomplish so much.”
Marketing director Kelly Simmons, 55, who lives in the Greater Philadelphia area, and is the author of The Fifth of July and One More Day, considers the event to be “an extremely collaborative, creative, exciting time for us,” when initiatives for the year are solidified.
For instance, Simmons and fellow Poppy Amy Impellizzeri, 48, of Berks County, Pa., who wrote The Truth About Thea and the upcoming Why We Live, gave a presentation on developing strategic partnerships. That led to the launch of the Books and Bottle product and exclusive partnership between Tall Poppy Writers and Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Books and Bottles pairs Coppola wines with Tall Poppy books.
This year, the Tall Poppy Writers are celebrating being named one of the 31 most innovative companies and nonprofits, nominated from a pool of 400 nominees representing nearly all industries, to become 2019 Wisconsin Innovation Award finalists in a competition sponsored by several companies including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Literacy Mission Blooms
Simmons is also proud of Bloom, an interactive Facebook group connecting readers with authors, managed by the Poppies, which uses innovative weekly content to celebrate women writers. This includes contests, giveaways and weekly guest author spots, as well as the opportunity to learn from award-winning authors and each other.
Another core component to the TPW mission is supporting literacy at home and abroad. “In the past few years, each of the Poppies raised various amounts of money, totaling over $125,000 to date,” Impellizzeri says. “These amounts include money raised for local libraries and schools through raffles and other promotions at book launches and events,” all to promote literacy.
As an example of the group’s interest in international causes, after members of the Tall Poppies learned of three sisters from Sierra Leone orphaned due to the deadly Ebola virus outbreak, the group raised money through the Global Giving Foundation to send them to a boarding school.
TPW also supports its partner Room to Read, a nonprofit focused on children’s literacy and gender equality through education. Some of the fundraising includes donating all profits from the sales of Bloom candles and other products to Room to Read, says Simmons.
Room to Read has worked in 16 countries, “promoting literacy for nearly seventeen million children, benefiting more than ninety-five thousand girls, as well as publishing and distributing twenty six million books since its inception almost twenty years ago,” says Geetha Murali, CEO of Room to Read.
Tips and Strategies for Women Writers
Poppies Garvin, Simmons and Impellizzeri have learned some valuable lessons as they’ve built their own writing careers. They say that developing a supportive community, and finding time to withdraw and write, are keys to success. Here are six of their top strategies:
Join a community of writers. “Whether it’s organized and run like a business like ours, or it’s a loose confederation of people from your [publishing] imprints, genre or region, you need to find a tribe that can help you get there,” with their collective knowledge of the industry and best practices, advises Simmons.
Start a generous, supportive network. Be transparent, says Impellizzeri, and openly discuss what “no one talks about: how writers obtained agents, received book deals, and learned about details related to those book deals.”
Delve into many writers’ conferences and workshops. Network with writers in your region and learn about the craft and current trends in the industry.
Build your brand and be willing to market your book. Garvin says it’s helpful to consider who your readers are and where your book might sit on the shelf. Impellizzeri has found it helpful to establish her platform and reach. “When the time comes to launch your book, you’ll have the support needed,” she says.
Write alongside your day job or supplement your income. Impellizzeri concurs with the recent Authors Guild study that reveals “most authors are not able to make their sole living publishing books,” so another source of income is necessary.
Protect your writing time. “Even small chunks of time can become profitable and productive,” says Impellizerri.
Never Too Late to Write
Garvin says what kept her going through the mounds of rejection letters, self-doubt and turmoil were friends who encouraged and supported her.
Impellizzeri recommends taking the long view, too. She feels that writing a book is like “putting a piece of art out into the world and there are a lot of subjective eyes on it. It’s not always the easiest, perfect reception, but you have got to have tough skin and know it’s a marathon — not a sprint.” She says that there’s no shortcut, no secret magic formula. “It’s thrilling and humbling and exhausting to launch a book into the world.”
Ten years ago, Impellizzeri never dreamed she’d be so successful. “I didn’t know exactly where the road would lead, but I took the first step anyway.”
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- Women Share Tales at ‘Stories Around the Table’
- The Many Joys of a Writing Workshop
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