MONTCLAIR, NJ - Tuesday evening the Montclair Public Library hosted a free event as part of their author series. “Women: A Driving Force In The Publishing World” was an interactive conversation with a panel of three female authors who spoke about women, writing, and the different paths to being published.

Ingrid Steffensen, Myriam Alvarez and Molly Raskin, all local authors, lead a conversation with approximately 30 audience members, of which 28 were women and one was a (female) child. 

Ingrid Steffensen self described as a recovering academic, previously a professor at Princeton, Rutgers, NJIT, and Bryn Mawr, wrote a memoir called Fast Girl: Don’t Brake Until You See The Face Of God And Other Good Advice From The Racetrack” after her husband introduced her to high-performance driving. Steffensen said her humorous memoir, published in 2012 was about doing something new and scary and seeing how it changed her life and perception of her own limits. She said,  “It’s about embracing your wild side while wearing a crash helmet”.

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Alvarez, formerly a foreign correspondent for an international news agency at the United Nations headquarters, originally from Argentina, has 20 years experience as a journalist and freelance writer. Alvarez wanted to experiment with the fiction genre and found inspiration in her grandmother’s life story. Her book is titled “Flowers in the Dust”. Her grandfather was a German Jew, her grandmother an Argentinian woman who through marriage ended up saving the lives of his family.  Alvarez said, “Women have paid a high price for the life we have today. Women had no voice, no vote, yet lived with dignity and grace and achieved so much.”

Raskin, the third panelist, a freelance writer, reporter and producer in national media wrote a book entitled “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the genius who transformed the Internet.” Having stepped in and out of stories for so many years, Raskin wanted a deeper look at this one man’s story. Raskin described herself as an avid reader who always wanted to write a novel. She heard about this young Israeli American computer scientist, who became an overnight sensation and went practically from rags to riches at the age of 27. Lewin was a brilliant mathematician who graduated from MIT and died on 9/11. He was stabbed to death at age 31 while trying to overpower the terrorists flew American flight 11 into the world trade center. She said, “This biography fell right into my lap. It was not a story that I needed to chase.”  Unlike Alvarez, Raskin went the traditional publishing route, acquiring an agent, and a publisher who took her book to publication.

While discussing their paths to being published, each came at it from a different angle but they all agreed that in this day and age authors do much of the work, from writing to marketing, largely on their own. Alvarez said she tried to find an agent but couldn’t, and ultimately she wanted the reader to be her judge, not an agent nor a publisher so she self-published through Create Space.

Alvarez said, “The writer does the legwork no matter which route they go. Although many writers enjoy the recognition of saying they were published by so-and-so at this stage in publishing, the Internet has become very democratic; if one uses it wisely as a tool, they will stand out”.

The first question from the audience was, “I’m interested in the process of making a decision as to whether to self publish. What are your views?”

Raskin explained how different it is to be a journalist versus a novelist. Getting into trade presses presented barriers.  She described her path to publication as having written a query, being rejected, changing her pitch and angle until she eventually found someone who was interested. The agent marketed her book to the publishers. While she went to the traditional way to being published, she noted that nowadays neither publishers, editors, nor publicists have enough time to dedicate to their clients.

Alvarez was a proponent of self-publishing, saying it takes much of the frustration out of the task. She said, “No one will care as much as you do about your book.”

The authors discussed the economics of publishing and agreed that self-publishing not only maintains author’s rights to the book but also provides much more of the profit to the author. They quoted a study where publishers such as the Paris Review, Harpers, Atlantic, and the New Republic were far more prone to publishing male authors and moreover even tended to have more males on their own staff.

When asked the question, “Should one start using social media before their book has been published or afterword?” Alvarez replied, “Before hand you can begin to throw out ideas, characters, and feed the curiosity of your readers.”

Alvarez also discussed the importance of cross promotion, being a guest blogger on someone else’s website, or establishing a blog.

Another audience member asked, “Is there anything that you can say you failed to do, or should have done?” Raskin replied, “The one regret I have is that when my book came out I didn’t simply relish it. Instead I worried about reviews, and got caught up in an emotional roller coaster.”

An audience member asked Alvarez how long it took to transition from from journalism to fiction. Alvarez responded, “It took about two years. Everyone will have different timing. I became a novelist in the process of writing.” Alvarez described not simply rewriting the first chapters, but scrapping them completely, and the importance of knowing when it is time to start over. She said, “Before we were writers we were readers. I always ask what captures me in a story. Stories gain a life of their own when they reach a reader.”

Steffensen also shared a story that exemplified how each reader comes to a story with his or her unique perspective. She said, “My favorite reader story was that of a guy, who lived in New York City for 25 years, and met us for dinner and said that he had just read my book and decided to take the subway for the first time in his life.”

When asked whether book signings were a good avenue to sell books, Steffensen said she had three book signings, one in Pennsylvania, one in New York City, and one in Maplewood NJ. She humorously described them as great parties that her family, friends, and even childhood babysitter attended, but were not a major source for selling books. Raskin chimed in saying, “Books don’t bring people to signings; celebrities do.”

Alvarez described her social media ritual as being three times a day, morning, early afternoon, and night for Facebook posting and tweeting.

The authors agreed that plugs and connections makes sales spike, but are sporadic and random, whereas word-of-mouth, via book clubs is ultimately the best PR machine. They jokingly told the audience that women love to talk and share books they’ve read. Their advice was to join a book club.

At the close of the event, Sue Fine, a member of the Write Group who was in attendance said, “The workshop was a perfect combination of hands-on information on today’s publishing industry and inspirational motivation to write the story you have in you. So glad I came!”

The takeaway for aspiring authors was to write for the love of writing, join a book club, and as Alvarez said, be persistent, patient, and thick-skinned.