Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Author: Barbara Forte Abate
An Interview with a Debut Novelist About Social Media and Words
by Janet Lawler
October 10, 2011

Okay, full disclosure here, Barbara Forte Abate is my longest and dearest friend on this planet.

We met in Study Hall when we were both only 13. Barbara asked to borrow a movie magazine that I was reading (hey, isn't that what Study Hall is for??) and we became instant buddies. She was a country girl and I was a city girl.  We both loved books, movies, TV Shows, celebrities and writing! From an early age, we each shared a passion for writing -- I for screenwriting/playwriting and Barbara for literature.

For over 35 years now (yeah, I know, we're old), we've shared rejection letters, ups and downs in life, family moments and just being there for each other when the other gets discouraged. Barbara was recently Best Gal at my wedding this summer. Her first born, Laurel, is my godchild. So, now you see just how important Barbara is in my life. She's truly my sister-friend.

We often note that writing kept us out of trouble in high school. While our peers were listening to Stairway to Heaven and partying in someone's garage, Barbara would come over my house and help me type up my latest script before I sent it to Hollywood. This was way before computers, folks, I'm talking typewriter and carbon paper.  Damn, we are old.  We were total writer geeks... and remain so to this very day.

Recently, Barbara published her debut novel The Secret of Lies. It's available on Amazon and in e-book format. I couldn't be happier for Barbara's success and for seeing one of her dreams come true. I know how hard she's worked. Writing isn't easy. She's also happily married and raised four wonderful children. She's not only my BFF, but she's an amazing woman and gifted writer. I thought her journey into publishing and social media might be helpful to other writers. Let's jump right into the Q and A.

Barbara, congratulations on your book.  How long did it take you to write The Secret of Lies?

Writing this book was pretty much a twenty year learning experience—give or take a few days! I didn’t know it when I started out, but I had a lot to learn. Trial, error, piles of rejection letters, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and yet all essential for a girl who mostly daydreamed through English class. The end result is a book I’m not ashamed to have my name on or to see on my mother’s coffee table.

I have a signed copy on my book shelf at home too!  What is your writing process like on an average writing day?

In my dream world I imagine how productive I would be if I were living in a cabin in the woods with no communication to the outside world. In real life, my days are a never-ending road race so I grab what I can at any hour of the day or night that offers some promise of quiet. I am one of those unfortunate writers who can only think in near absolute quiet, and I don’t have to tell you that the world is rarely set on mute. On top of that I’m a slow writer. It’s not unusual for me to spend hours perfecting a paragraph only to find it’s still lousy when I look at it again a day later.

You're so plugged into social networking, blogging and digital marketing for The Secret of Lies. Can you talk about how you immersed yourself in this new world for most writers? How time consuming is it, posting to your web site, blogging, doing podcasts?  

That’s a quandary I’m still trying to work out in a way that feels balanced and right. It’s wild to think that social networking is still so new to many of us. There are so many offerings it’s almost too much. I was and am something of a media ignoramus/techno dinosaur so finding a starting point involved my not so brilliant idea of just jumping into the deep end and seeing what happened. What happened, and quickly, was that I nearly drowned. Not only is social networking a very intricate network under the covers, it’s intimidating, time consuming, constantly changing, and insatiably hungry. And then of course wonderful once you get yourself settled in. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that “Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you should be.” Not all media offerings are a good fit, but I haven’t always recognized that until I’ve taken a test drive and seen for myself. There’s a lot of advice circulating about the importance of “Building your Tribe” and “Branding Yourself,” all of which translates as putting in the time and effort to get it right. Putting yourself out there, yes, but not promoting to the point of obnoxiousness. It’s about growing relationships not annoying everyone across cyberspace. On the other hand, unless you happen to be Stephen King or JK Rowling, you HAVE to promote. I think promotion can be a very tricky and fickle beast for anyone, let alone someone like me who loathes the idea of pushing My Book, My Book, My Book, at every click of the mouse. As a debut, non-brand name author, I do understand that no one other than friends and relatives are likely to find my book without promotion, yet I’ve been on the receiving end of those authors who promote with every breath and it’s largely obnoxious. It’s my experience that social networking, promotion, and the like require both patience and sincerity. Things rarely happen overnight and relationships take time to develop. That’s why it’s so important to carve out networking time every single day—now until the end of time—since that’s’ how long your book should be available. I admit that I tend to treat social networking as something of a buffet, trying a little of this and that to determine what most appeals before piling it onto my plate. I make it a habit to visit new blogs and check out interesting links on twitter and fb. There’s just so much great content out there. So much in fact, it can be a dangerous temptation, especially on those days when you’re staring at your own blank screen because your thoughts are hiding behind the clouds and your writing is trickling rather than flowing. You wander off to Twitter or FB and before you know it you’ve left a string of posts from here to eternity, but done no actual writing on your lonely work-in-progress.

What advice can you give a writer about to launch a book online or through independent publishing?

For starters I wish I’d known how important it is to start building buzz for your book as far in advance as possible. I’ve heard 2-3 years is ideal. Can you imagine? I certainly didn’t! Putting together a website with sample chapters, sharing your experience on your blog, maybe a book trailer to let readers know what’s coming. And definitely, absolutely, visit other blogs and websites and leave comments. (Caution—this doesn’t mean promoting yourself or your book. That’s what your blog and website are for.). When you’re consistent in sharing your thoughts and offering suggestions, opinions, or information, you’re also introducing yourself to the world at large and that’s a good thing for when your book comes out. If you have an ARC or PDF copy of your book available it’s also an excellent plan to approach reviewers. There are loads of reviewer blogs, podcasts, and websites devoted to book reviews. A word about reviews, they are invaluable, and not only important in the early life of your book, but something you should pursue for the entire life of your book. (Nee, forever!) It’s essential to remember that there are a bajillion books being published every year and if you hope to keep yours from taking a nosedive into the horror of obscurity you need to keep breathing life into it. Reviews can help do that.

Are you selling books more off the shelf or digitally?

Although my book is available on the shelf locally, (Alas, Borders in particular was very supportive), it’s online sales that have brought home the bacon. And absolutely, the eBook version of The Secret of Lies has kicked sales up a few notches. No question we’re all loving our digital books like crazy.

What inspires you to write?

Words words, beautiful words. Honestly, but I have wild love for the power of words. Things of life inspire me enormously—people, emotions, strength of the human spirit, a certain expression, a beautiful phrase—so often it’s the tiniest seed that becomes a story spanning hundreds of pages. I’m very partial to hands. They say so much about a person and an interesting set—hardworking, lived-in, honest—can start an entire plot ticking in my mind.

What's next on your plate? Any new projects in the works?

I’m hoping to get through the final edit (Ha,final? As if!) of my novel in progress in the next couple of months. But I use the word hope loosely. Having a book out on the shelf, while thrilling, does change the dynamic of writing habits I’ve cultivated over the past twenty years, for the fact that marketing doesn’t ever end. And selling books and writing books, on most days, feels something like a horse trying to run in two separate directions at the same time.

Thanks, Barbara! I know your inside tips will help many writers out there.  Good luck with your new book. See you and the family soon for Halloween!!

Note to Bloggers, you can order Barbara's book through or visit her website at:
Barbara is also on Facebook.  


DogLover6 said...

Too often we pick up a book to read and never realize how involved the process of publication is. What starts as a seed of thought in a writers mind to achieving publication is a mind-boggling adventure.Such dedication and hard work is much appreciated;sharing what contributes to making that happen allows the reader to enjoy the finished product even more. Knowing someone cared enough to not give up on their dream so that losing oneself in a finely crafted novel is possible,makes the read that much more enjoyable!!!

Barbara Forte Abate said...

Thank you so much Janet for having me over--such a nice place you have here! I think back to those days when we were skipping school to type your scripts, and who ever would've figured we'd be doing the same thing all these years later and chatting about it on blogs on the internet! (Seriously, but are we really THAT old???) What a ride it's been and continues to be. And what a thrill that regardless of time and distance we're still in this gig together!

Barbara Forte Abate said...

Much appreciation DogLover6, for your comment. As a writer eating, breathing, and living vicariously thorough words, it is a true thrill to connect with readers. And yet, as meaningful as it is to have someone relate to a story or characters, I wouldn't expect anyone to pause and consider the "man behind the curtain" and the pins-and-needles process of publication. Oh but, what sincere and humble appreciation I feel when someone like you does. Thank you, thank you, for sharing your thoughts :-)

Janet Lawler said...

Thanks for the great interview, Barbara, I know it will inspire others to write and reach their goal. It's also a look behind the curtain of publishing today -- so much more goes into it than the actual manuscript -- it's a huge committment as you've shown.

Thanks, DogLover6, for reading and commenting on our post.