This was cross-posted from Women Grow Business

“Am I a Woman in Business?” Learning to Promote Yourself the Same Way Businesses Do

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Am I a woman in business, a businesswoman?
That is an interesting question for me to contemplate in writing a post for Women Grow Business. I started my website, AmyMittelman.com, and my blog, Musings, because I wrote a book, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

Many years ago, I had a business, Academic Publicity, that provided promotional help for academic authors.

In retrospect, my business plan had a fatal flaw: academics didn’t want to pay for my services.

In general, academics do not think of themselves as writers and thus do not want to pay to increase their book sales. The existence of the book itself punches their tenure ticket. And most academics write only one book. The one major business success I had was getting my husband‘s book, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 into paperback.

New business, young family, and next steps
At the time that I was running Academic Publicity, I had completed a PH.D in American history and had two small children at home. I had started the business because I was realizing it was unlikely I would be able to get an academic job without significant disruption to my life.

The perfect vision of hindsight
Because of life’s increasing complexity with family, including buying a new home, I ended the business after two years. With the perfect vision of hindsight, I realized that was too short a time to grow a business. I pulled the plug on Academic Publicity so quickly because I was losing money and I already had some feelings of guilt because I had been unable to find an academic position.

I think inadequacy, guilt, and feelings of illegitimacy are all common problems for women as they negotiate between professional goals and family life. I ended the business and quickly looked around for some way to be gainfully employed.

I settled on becoming a nurse.
I have been a nurse for 14 years and have worked in many different healthcare settings. I do not feel that being a nurse replaced being a historian. I brought all the skills and lessons I had acquired from my academic career, my business, and my family life to my new profession. Again, I think this is typical for women.

Many women’s lives do not occur in a linear fashion.
Both male and female baby boomers are famous for second acts and continually reinventing themselves. I believe this has always been truer for women and has certainly been true for me.

Contemplating a book on beer
Although I enjoyed being a nurse, I had always wanted to publish my dissertation as a book and that remained a goal. About seven years ago, with an increased focus, I began to contemplate taking material from my thesis and writing a book on beer. I was fortunate enough to obtain a publishing contract in the spring of 2006 and Brewing Battles was published in December 2007.

I believe persistence was the key to my achieving this long held goal.

And to achieve anything you probably have to have a passion for the endeavor.

Algora Publishing (who published Brewing Battles) is a very small press, providing very little marketing support for my book. So I have had to market the book myself. Luckily, I had the experience from once running my business Academic Publicity to fall back on. However, in the 15 intervening years since I ended the business, publicizing and marketing books changed completely.

I have marketed the book in both traditional and new ways.
I sent out advance copies to various academic and trade journals, hosted a book party, and have given book talks. Of course, almost all of my correspondence and press releases have been via email (…haven’t done any direct mailings). And many blogs also received my press release about Brewing Battles, in addition to traditional print media.

Learning curves and achieving mastery on the blogosphere
The blogosphere represents the most significant change from the world of book marketing 20 years ago. Setting up my own blog was definitely a challenge with several false starts. Every new task I have attempted has come with a new learning curve and a deep sense of accomplishment when I achieve mastery.

Persistence is key here as well.

Finding the answer to “Am I a woman in business?”
So in answer to my original question, I am a writer and that means I am in business for myself. My varied life experiences have taught me that everything in life is about marketing, marketing yourself. Not in a conceited or self-absorbed way but in the sense that…

You have to put yourself forward and promote yourself in the same way that businesses do.

 

Community

I read  the blog , New Kid on the Hallway which focuses on her leaving the history profession and going to law school. Of course this reminds me of my own professional journey. When I decided to give up trying to get an academic position and went back to school to be a nurse I did that on my own. I had no community of historians, academics or nurses to support me. Fifteen years later blogs exist to connect people with similar interests. I think this is one of the most positive aspects of the “new media”; people can be connected  even if they do not have an institutional or professional affiliation. An independent scholar, a freelancer writer, a self-employed entrepreneur can all find a community and do not have to pursue their goals in social isolation. Blogging does not replace face to face communication and interaction  but it can give someone who has no workplace to go to a greater sense of identity.

Self Publishing

Many people seem to feel the book as a printed, tangible object may be on the way out. The rise in popularity of digital readers such as Kindle would seem to support this idea. The apparent demise of the book has not stopped books from being published. In 2008 almost 480,000 books were published or distributed in the U.S. This was an increase of over 100,000 books from 2007.

A recent article in the New York Times explored the contribution of self-published books to this increase. Technological advances have enabled aspiring authors to obtain printed copies of their work for as little as $3. Most self-publishing companies charge authors fees, staring at $99, for various services. The article points out that self-publishing authors sacrifice access to marketing and distribution that traditional publishers usually provide.

The article posits a strict dichotomy between self publishing and conventional publishing. Many authors who have their books published by main stream publishers do not receive any marketing services and have to market the book themselves. Technology and Amazon have given publishers greater latitude in printing and distribution which can led to a conventionally published book not being available from a wholesaler such as Baker & Taylor. Often being published by commercial publisher gives the author that distinction and nothing else. Some self publishing firms provide distribution via wholesalers as part of their services. It is more appropriate to look at publishing in 2009 as being a spectrum with major publishing houses on one end and self publishing at the other. For many authors in the middle there is little difference.

E Books

There was a review of the new version of Amazon’s Kindle in the New York Times the other day; today the Times has a story looking at several e-book personal reading devices. The question I have is about ebooks in libraries. WorldCat says about 140 libraries have a ebook version of Brewing Battles. On June 30 2008 WorldCat had 120 libraries owning the e book.I got my royalty statement in August and I got royalties on 3 ebooks. Does anybody understand how that works? So if the future of books, particularly more scholarly ones, is ebooks, does that mean authors will make even less from their books?

The other issue with ebooks in libraries is connected to the different databases and electronic services various libraries have, depending on the cost of the items. So if an academic institution doesn’t have a lot of money they may not have as big a collection of ebooks as another library. Some libraries may allow you to download a pdf of the book -in essence borrow the book-  and some may not.

The Slow and Steady Approach

The immediacy of blogging is both a blessing and a curse. The pressure to respond immediately to a news item or story prompts writing and diminishes procrastination. That’s the good part. The bad is when you miss the boat and don’t write something in a timely manner. The consequences are that someone else often posts about the very thing you were sure you would convey so elegantly.

You quickly forget the lost opportunity as the next topic emerges out of the ether of the world. The cycle begins again. There is also the option of ignoring the pressures of immediacy;  choosing instead to post about topics that may have a  longer shelf life than a day.

Ironically I wrote the above words last week. My plan was to post this, then begin posting about stories and ideas I had been ruminating on for the last month or so. My hope was that the longer period of reflection would yield better insight.

Before I could put this plan in motion, the immediate side of blogging reemerged. I guess that ultimately my approach to blogging is to be both the tortoise and the hare.