Books Are Magic! So Is Screenprinting!

I’m offering a new reward over at the Kickstarter today — beautiful book-themed prints lettered by Kelly Cummings and printed by Yellowhammer Creative. They’re amazing, and even if you’ve already chosen a reward you can get them, so head over to the Kickstarter to check them out, or click here for more details. Yay books! Yay letters! Yay localists!

My Writing Ritual? Coffee, Beer, Repeat

There’s a fairly universal truth about writers: It’s hard to work from home. It’s hard for anyone to work from home, probably, but being a writer means you’re also in your own head a lot. Being in your own head and in your own house (and probably in your pajamas) can become a sort of black hole of self-focus. In my experience, you don’t do your best writing from a black hole of self-focus.

I’ve learned there’s an axiom to this truth: It can also be hard to work from your own coffee shop. I love Church Street, but lately I’ve been finding it tough to concentrate on writing a book when I’m surrounded by friends, books, coffee and Michael Jackson songs. It feels a lot like home (well, at home I play less Michael Jackson). Usually, that’s a good thing. But not when you’re up against a deadline for a book.

Getting out the door (of both my home and my shop, which has been a second home to me for awhile now) seems to help, so I’ve been spending my days, not in Crestline, but in the local shops of downtown Birmingham.

Another thing about writer-types, and maybe one of the only things we have in common with hard-core sports fans, is that we can be a little obsessed with rituals and good luck charms. If we have a day of good focus and good work, we’ll do everything we can to recapture it.

Last week, I had one really great writing day where I started the day at ZaZa (Trattoria Centrale, whatever), walked to Carrigan’s for lunch, walked to Urban Standard for coffee, and finished up at Paramount. In my black-hole-crazy-writer mind, one good writing day is reason enough to repeat that pattern. And repeat it again. And again. So I’ve been on a downtown loop a lot this week. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day, but with good food and really nice people.

Does it work? Well, I guess we’ll all have to wait until the book comes out to see I’m really doing good work, but at least I’m enjoying it. Obviously I love Church Street, but I also love that Birmingham has so many fantastic local places where I can feel welcome and at home even though I’m not paying the rent. (Well, I kind of am paying the rent, because I’m buying stuff.) I’m thankful that the staff at all these places is friendly and kind, and that they hardly even mention how weird it is that I’m basically camping out and pestering them for hours at a time.

So if you want to follow my writing formula, it’s this: 1 frittata and 1 coffee from Trattoria + 1 salad from Carrigans + 1 Americano from Urban + 1 Good People Pale Ale at Paramount = 1 good writing day. It also happens to equal about $21 that gets recirculated into our local economy. And maybe that’s worth it, even if it doesn’t cure my writer’s block.

Read about the book I’m writing, and donate to The Localist Kickstarter, here.

I Look Stupid on Kickstarter, and I Don’t Care! (Actually I Care a Lot)

Click here to donate to my Kickstarter.

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My best advice for running a Kickstarter campaign? Get ready to feel like an idiot.

My Kickstarter isn’t over. I don’t have all the money I need, but technically I have met my first goal, so a lot of people have asked me for advice about running a successful campaign. I gave some practical tips to See Jane Write yesterday, but I didn’t talk about the biggest issue: insecurity.

Marketing a personal brand, or even a business, for me is an exercise in fake confidence. I’m naturally incredibly shy, and I’m most comfortable being self-deprecating, but those qualities come off badly on social media; smiling selfies and confident posts perform much better. In a decision between what feels good to me and what’s effective, I’ll usually go with effective. It’s why I’m successful in business … and it’s why I’m uncomfortable most of the time.

Asking people to donate money to your project — to believe so much in what you’re doing, or so much in you, that they actually part with cash — is incredibly tough. It can feel wonderful when people pledge, but it can also feel overwhelming and humbling. And it’s worse, of course, when they don’t give money. I’m trying not to pay attention to who’s given and who hasn’t, but that’s a little bit impossible, and it’s hard not to be annoyed that people I’ve showered with gifts for engagements and weddings and babies can’t part with twenty bucks when it comes to something that’s important to me.

But there are a million valid reasons that people don’t pledge, and they probably have nothing to do with me or with my project. It’s more likely that they’re going through a hard financial time, or that they don’t understand Kickstarter. It’s really dumb (and not effective) to take a lack of pledges personally, but that’s a constant temptation, especially when pledges slow down, like they have for me.

Begging for Kickstarter donations feels desperate and icky, and frankly I don’t like it. But I’m doing it anyway, because I happen to think my project, a book about buying locally, is important. I also feel that the train trip/book tour is pretty essential to the book’s success, so I’ll keep pushing this stretch goal, even though I’m afraid I won’t make it and I’ll end up failing publicly. (The worst kind of failing!)

And I guess that’s my real advice for running a Kickstarter: If you’re going to do it, make sure you can be really proud of your product. Because looking like an idiot isn’t worth it for something you don’t believe in.

DIY Books? Why I’m Self-Publishing

Click here to give to The Localist Kickstarter.

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There’s a lot of drama surrounding self-publishing, and I used to advise wannabe authors to avoid it at almost any cost. Obviously, this has led to a lot of questions about why I’m self-publishing anyway. Luckily, I have a blog, so I can answer this questions all at once.

First, why does self-publishing get such a bad rap?

Oh, about a million reasons. Here are five:

  1. If no traditional publisher will pick up your book, there might be a reason. It could be either that you’re not a good writer, or your book doesn’t have an audience. Or both.

  2. There’s more to publishing than writing a good story (although that’s hard enough). A book also needs great editing, strong design and good marketing campaign to succeed. Most self-published authors don’t have these talents/resources.

  3. Booksellers (and librarians, from what I gather) don’t tend to like self-published authors and usually won’t promote their books.

  4. Traditional publishing historically blackballs self-published authors, so if you print under a vanity press you’re unlikely to get picked up by an established publishing house later.

  5. Self-published books often look tacky. Their shiny covers, bright white pages and poorly chosen fonts make for an unpleasant reading experience.

Why I’m self-publishing anyway:

  1. Big publishing probably would’ve passed on my book (I’m assuming — I didn’t try to pitch anybody) because it primarily has a regional audience. Yes, I think The Localist message is about more than just Birmingham, and the book could have a nationwide readership. (That’s certainly the dream.) But from a marketing and sales perspective, it’s just not a good bet for an established publishing house. Just because a book has a niche or regional audience doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist, though, and self-publishing makes that possible.

  2. I’m hiring professionals to edit and design the book — that’s what the Kickstarter’s paying for — and I’ve worked in marketing myself. Will I do this perfectly or as well as a publishing house? Certainly not. But I’m happy with the quality, and I think my readers will be, too.

  3. Self-published authors tend to be pushy and aggressive. They usually don’t know the standard industry discount for books; they ask the store to buy their books outright instead of accepting them on consignment; they demand display space. I’ve been a bookseller for a lot longer than I’ve been an author, so I’m more aware of industry standards. (And I try not to be pushy and rude to people, especially not when I’m asking a favor.)

  4. After Fifty Shades of Grey and The Shack, successful self-published authors are more accepted, albeit grudgingly, by the industry.

  5. Printing standards have really improved, and it’s possible to produce a self-published book that looks and feels more like a “real” book.

I’ll be completely honest and say self-publishing isn’t the way I’d hoped to publish my first book. But I’m also being truthful when I say that I really do believe it’s the best choice for this particular material (I’m able to include local artists in book production, and the book is funded mostly locally). Sometimes, a publishing house is the best bet — I’d still say that usually it is. It’s just not the best bet for me; at least not this time.

Want to help publish this book? Click here to give to The Localist Kickstarter.

New Rewards on the Kickstarter!

I’m offering a few new rewards on the Kickstarter today, and I’m really excited that one of them is the I Am Bham tshirt. I wear mine all the time (including in my Kickstarter video, obviously), and get compliments on it constantly. Andrew Thomson, who’s designing The Localist book, designs and prints them, so it makes sense to offer it as a reward, and Andrew’s incredibly generous to let me do it. I’m really excited about it! I already said that!

Other new rewards include more books (I take it as a good sign that I keep selling out of books), Wagon Train postcards, and a backer-suggested Nail Art Workshop. You can read all about it in today’s update, or skip straight to giving on the main page.

If you’ve already donated and want to increase your reward, or claim two rewards, I’ve put instructions for that in the update as well.

Thanks so much to everyone who’s backed The Localist book, and to everyone who’s following along on our journey.

The Wagon Train Needs Your Help!

Today, the new phase of my Kickstarter begins as I try to raise even more money ($3,000 more) to create a press tour and blog for the book. I’m calling it The Wagon Train, and the idea is that I’ll take Amtrak’s Crescent line all the way from New Orleans to New York, stopping in cities along the way to do book signings and events at local bookstores and libraries.

Adding a stretch goal to Kickstarter is really scary. I don’t want to seem greedy, and I don’t want people to get sick of hearing me ask for money. But I really believe this tour could be an essential part of getting the book to a lot of people, and I think the message of buying local is pretty important — important enough that I’m willing to risk looking stupid to give the book its best shot at success.

Why do I need a tour?

I want the buy-local message to reach a lot of people, and I’ve worked in publishing and bookselling long enough to know that it won’t just magically happen when I publish the book. To really spread the word, I’m going to have to go out in the world, get uncomfortable, and actually tell people about it. This book isn’t just about Birmingham; it’s bigger than that. Social media will only get me so far in getting the word out, and meeting people face-to-face will be hugely important.

Connecting Communities

Buying local is all about community. That’s why I’m using crowdfunding to support it in the first place, and it’s why I want to reach out to other cities and communities by visiting them. But the real point of this journey is to connect those other cities to Birmingham, and to other readers of The Localist, through a blog. I’m guessing people in North Carolina and New Orleans and New York have different ideas about buying local, and those are ideas that I think we can all benefit from. Visiting different communities and blogging about what they have to say helps connect all of us.

Spreading the Word

I want to spread the word through social media, through the blog and through personal connections, but I also want to do it through traditional media like newspapers and TV news. My job used to include sorting through press releases to decide which ones would run in the newspaper, so I know that, in order to get press coverage, you need to have an interesting angle. The train trip gives me that: “Local Girl Publishes Book” just isn’t as interesting as “Girl Hops Train to Promote Crowd-funded Book.”

Why the Train

I chose Amtrak partly because of price — it’s cheaper to buy a Rail Pass and get on and off in different cities than it is to buy a bunch of plane tickets. I also chose it because I love riding on the train, and I love writing on the train. There’s just something romantic about riding the rails, and I’ve always been able to get a lot of reading, writing and thinking done on a train trip. Most of The Localist book was written on trains, actually, as I took short trips to New Orleans and Austin (okay, that trip wasn’t so short) to get blocks of writing time. Why “The Wagon Train”? Because my last name is Rollwagen, and I’m a nerd.

I know the train trip is a much harder sell than The Localist book is. What we’re creating (a blog, and a community) isn’t as obvious as it was when I was asking money for a book, and the goal is pretty ambitious. But I’d love it if you’d consider giving anyway, and spreading the word about the project. Thanks to everyone for your support so far — it means the world to me. To give, or to check out The Localist project, click here.

We Got Our Kickstarter Funding!

Saturday night, I was at Carrigan’s, drinking a Good People Pale Ale and sharing a plate of fries (served with Hipster Ranch, duh) with my friend Mollie, when I got a message: The Localist Kickstarter met our first funding goal, raising $5,000 to publish my book about shopping locally. To celebrate, we went on a little Localist pub crawl, hitting Collins and Paramount with a stop to see the light rails tunnel on the way.

Okay, this was our plan anyway. But it was the perfect way to celebrate a project about buying local, because I felt supported everywhere I went: from Angel at Collins to Russell and Kyle at Paramount, who all congratulated me on reaching my goal, to Zach from Carrigan’s, who makes a cameo in my Kickstarter video. They were kind to me because they’re all really nice people, but it isn’t unusual to walk into an independent and find people who care, who support you, and who become part of your community. That’s part of the point of being a localist.

I owe big thanks to more than just my bartenders, of course. A huge thank you to every single person who supported the Kickstarter. A lot of the money we raised was local, but we also had donations from across the country (Oregon, New York, New Hampshire), and even from Canada. I’m really humbled by and grateful for the response. That kind of support for the message of The Localist — that shopping from independently owned stores and restaurants strengthens our communities and makes our lives better — is really exciting.

So, is the Kickstarter finished? Not by a long shot. We’ve met our first goal of actually printing the book, but the buy-local message has the best chance of success if I can bring it outside of Birmingham, too. That’s why I’m asking for continued donations so we can meet our stretch goal of another $3,000 to create a marketing campaign and take The Localist on an East Coast bookstore tour via Amtrak.

I’ll be announcing some fun new rewards for the train tour in the next day or two, but for now I think we should all bask in our success. Yeah, I hit my Kickstarter goal. Yeah, I’m excited. But I quite literally couldn’t have done it without you.

Want to support this amazing Kickstarter you’ve been reading about? Check out and donate to The Localist Kickstarter here!

Fear Not the Red Pen: The Joys of Being Edited

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It takes a village to write a book. When I picture “a writer,” I see someone sitting behind a typewriter alone, slurping out of a big cup of coffee, looking frazzled. In some ways, it’s true — as I write this blog, I’m sitting alone behind the computer, drinking my first cup of coffee. And I pretty much always look frazzled.

But although I’m starting this day (and most days) alone at my desk, I don’t really work alone. At least, not when my work is best. Most writers, including me, are hugely improved by editors (and proofreaders, and fact-checkers).

For my blogs, I don’t have an editor (unless you count the emails I get from my mom when I use a comma incorrectly). The mini-essays that make up a blog are casual, and best when they’re fresh, so it’s not really practical to hire an editor. Sometimes, that’s fine, and my brilliant wit comes through anyway. Sometimes, I could’ve used an editor, if only to cut out phrases like “my brilliant wit.”

So when I decided to self-publish The Localist, a book based on this blog, I knew I’d need an editor. Writing a book has turned out to be incredibly different than writing blogs, and it’s proved much more difficult for me to hang onto a narrative thread through a couple hundred pages than it is to hold it through a few blog paragraphs. Could I publish The Localist without an editor? Sure. It would, technically, still be readable (I do make my living as a writer, after all).  But that’s not the best choice, either for me or for my readers. I want this book to be the best it can be, and that means I need another perspective, more insight, and a serious critical look at my book.

I got that hard look this weekend when my editor (and fellow former independent bookseller), Bobby Watson, met me at The Garage for an hours-long session of picking through my latest draft page-by-page. Bobby’s edits were insightful and smart, and he did a really brilliant job of helping me shape the book without losing my voice or changing what I’m really trying to say. Our session left me with a lot more work to do, but I’m happy to do it because it will make the book better. (Well, I’m kind of happy to do it. Edits aren’t exactly fun, even when they’re necessary.)

I do like writing alone at a desk. But — and this is weird for me, a hard-core introvert, to say — I like collaborating even more. When you can work with an editor or a co-writer or a team that really gets what you’re trying to do, who is smart, and who brings a lot of creativity to the table, you get a sort of magic that’s difficult to find on your own. I found this kind of alchemy with Bobby, and I know The Localist book will be better for it.

This is what I’ve found really beautiful about the process of creating this book — the fact that it’s not just mine. It belongs to over 100 people who have already contributed money to the book’s Kickstarter campaign, and who’ve helped spread the word to others through social media. It belongs to Bobby, who gave me great insights and ideas to make the writing better, and to the designer who’ll make the book look great on your shelf or coffee table, and to the web designer who’ll create the companion blog.

I absolutely love the fact that this book, a story that’s all about community, already has a community of support. To all you who’ve contributed to the Kickstarter, thank you so much for being a part of it. And to those who haven’t and want to, click here to watch a silly video of me and contribute. Then read this post again and enjoy the warm-and-fuzzy feelings of knowing you really are a critical part of making this book happen — even if you never picked up a red pen.

Boycott Black Friday

Yes, this is really how I sleep, with my hand raised (Am I dreaming about answering a question in school? Probably.) and my hair around my head like a mountain lion. Now you know.

Congratulations, everyone — this weekend, you can take a stand for social justice, just by sleeping in. Oh, and you’ll also be helping your local economy. And the national economy. And you’ll probably take a lot less stress off your family, and be taking a stand against materialism. All by skipping Black Friday.

I know, Black Friday offers good deals or whatever. But think about where those deals come from. Here’s the thing: If you’re offered huge savings, it’s your responsibility to ask yourself why, and to decide if that’s really worth it. If the price is so low it seems like a steal, it probably is — but just who are you stealing from?

You’re not stealing from the corporate retailer. They’ll make up their loss with all the other crap you’re going to impulse buy when you’re in line at the register. You’re stealing from Americans who lost their jobs to outsourced labor. You’re stealing dignity from the people in China and other countries who actually do make your products, because in most cases the labor costs are kept low because the companies are mistreating employees. Your TV is cheap because the people who made it aren’t allowed to watch television, because they’re not allowed to go home at the end of the day. That’s not melodrama. That’s a fact.

But let’s go closer to home. In many cases, the employees at the stores where you’re shopping don’t get health care or a living wage. Employees at Walmart are striking on Black Friday because they’re so mistreated. There’s a lot of debate over this strike, which is at least partially instigated by unions, and whether or not that’s right — I’m not sure if unions are the answer, but I do know there’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed somehow, and Walmart isn’t going to address it until they’re forced to. In my opinion, not even the walk-out will make them to deal with their problems. What will? When we start refusing to buy from retailers who prioritize low prices over human decency or over our own economic growth.

And even when the issues aren’t that serious, Black Friday is pretty terrible for anyone who works at a retail store. Skipping out on Black Friday when you work at a mall or a big chain store usually means losing your job, so employees who have family out of town can’t spend Thanksgiving at home, since they have to report back to work at midnight in most cases. If you’ve ever worked retail on Black Friday, you know that it generally epitomizes the worst of the human condition — there’s a lot of desperation, a lot of inconsideration, and a lot of greed. Basically the opposite of everything the holidays are supposed to stand for.

Several of my friends say they need to shop Black Friday because they can’t afford Christmas otherwise. Oh please. These aren’t basic necessities we’re talking about. Nobody’s offering doorbuster savings on beans or canned soup. You’re standing in line so your kid can have not only a princess doll, but also all her accessories. So your son can get a game system and six games instead of two. I’m not saying that’s all that terrible, but it is terrible to pretend you’re doing it for the economy, or for your budget, or for any other reason than you want to own more stuff.

Do I think you’re a horrible person if you shop Black Friday? No. Some of my best friends are Black Friday shoppers, and I love them and think they’re wonderful. But I do think they may not be totally aware of what their choices mean for other people.

So I’m proposing you boycott Black Friday. Stay in your pajamas, sleep in, and spend the last few hours of all-too-rare family time with your family, instead of with a bunch of discount-hungry zombies (The Shopping Dead?). It’ll probably be the easiest, most relaxed boycott you’ll ever be a part of. And if you really miss all that shopping excitement, save it up for the next day and celebrate Shop Small Saturday, when you can buy local, buy American, and know that the extra money you’re spending is actually doing good in your community.

Shop Small. Tweet Local.

Don’t get excited; it’s only a 4S.

Want small shops to succeed? Make sure you’re talking about them on social media.

Even people who understand that shopping small has a positive impact on the community (supporting building roads and schools as well as providing more authentic, community-focused options) often have trouble actually buying locally, partly because it seems expensive. Well, you know what’s not expensive? Twitter. Facebook. Instagram.

Saying positive things about small shops on the Internet — even just mentioning that you’re visiting a small shop, or tagging us in a Facebook or Instagram post — has a huge impact on our business.

Partly, this is because most people don’t have enough time to take a chance on a small shop they know nothing about. When we go to Target, Best Buy, or Barnes and Noble, we know exactly what to expect. When we head to an independent, there’s a lot of mystery. And we don’t always like to make room in our lives for mystery. When you take time to tell your followers and friends that you visited and loved a small shop, it makes them feel more comfortable trying it for themselves. After all, they like you, and you liked the shop. Chances are, they’ll like it, too.

Basically, tweeting (or Facebooking or Instagramming) about an independent is free advertising for that store. In an economy where budgets are being slashed, and where independents are struggling to keep prices as low as possible in the face of cutthroat national competition, this is really helpful. We just don’t have money for commercials, print ads, or those super-annoying Facebook coupons. (Seriously, how obnoxious are those? I really don’t care if you saved a buck at Academy Sports, and it just makes me wonder why you didn’t go to locally owned Trak Shak.)

For some reason, Birminghamians are pretty great about spreading the word about local restaurants — not so much about other stores. I have lots of friends who come visit me at Church Street, but you wouldn’t know it from their Twitter feeds. It’s so frustrating to see Instagrammed pictures that are taken at the shop that don’t tag us. Those are opportunities to help my store that are routinely missed. (And it seriously breaks my heart when they Facebook about books bought on Amazon.)

I understand that social media isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t want anyone to promote a shop that they don’t like. I also get that location tagging takes away some privacy, and I respect the desire to not constantly tell the whole world exactly where you are and what you’re doing. But if you’re active on social media, you are sending a message to everyone who follows you — are you telling them about your favorite local shops, and promoting more community involvement? Or are you parroting offers from Starbucks and Target that actually drive business away from your community?

A tweet is only 140 characters, but it can still be really helpful (or harmful) for local business.