Mindy: Today's guest is Kelly DeVos, who's work on body positivity has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel Fat Girl On A Plane - named one of the 50 best summer readings of all time by Reader's Digest Magazine is now available from Harper Collins. Her second book, Day Zero, is coming in 2019 from InkYard Press. Kelly joined me today to talk about the sophomore experience in publishing, the importance of networking, and how not to market yourself.
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Mindy: You've got your debut, Fat Girl On A Plane behind you. And really often whenever we're talking about anything in the arts, I hear the phrase "sophomore effort" when speaking about an artist's second work and it's usually not used in a complimentary way. So tell listeners a little bit about your publishing experience the second time around. What is different and are the pressures different?
Kelly: Yeah, so for me anyway, the struggle of the sophomore novel was so, so real. The experience of writing my second book was so different. For Day Zero I wrote four sample chapters and a fairly detailed synopsis and the book sold based on that proposal. So it was my first experience writing and working on something that had already sold. And I found that the writing process, at least for me, was a lot more difficult in the sense that I really did not know if I was working on a good book or a readable book or a book that other people might want to read. I think when you're working on your debut, you know most people get an agent with their debut so they have that sense of validation that comes with like, okay, a gatekeeper has read this and thinks that it's good. But with Day Zero, no one had read it and I was working alone and it just felt emotionally anyway, a lot more difficult.
Mindy: I know that when I was working on my second book, the pressures were slightly different because of the fact that it was a followup title. I was following up Not A Drop to Drink with not necessarily a sequel, but a companion book. So with you, you are changing over to something entirely different. I want to talk about that a little bit about the genre departure, but I want to ask you more about the whole concept of the "bloom is off the rose" - that debut experiences behind you. Anything that you took with you from that first experience in publishing that you were like, yes, I know to do that this time or I definitely want to make sure I try this.
Kelly: In my writing process, early on I made basically like every mistake that you can make. So it's hard to kind of like pinpoint and say like, okay, there's the one thing that I'm, I'm not going to do because the reality of it is, I'm probably not going to do a lot of those things. I had improved my writing process. Like I had gotten a lot faster at drafting and editing and so forth in between books. Uh, so I felt like there was a lot of learning there, but I felt like what I really got out of debut experience was I had met a lot of really great writers along the way and I had people to turn to for advice, which I think was what was different from the debut experience where you're still kind of meeting people and kind of finding, you know, your crowd or like the table that you're going to sit at in the lunchroom. So I guess that that's what was different for me.
Mindy: Yeah, the networking changes entirely and it continues to change. I can tell you two of my closest friends in the writing world are in my debut group and we actually met because we are members of the Class of 2k13 and we've just stayed in touch and we do appearances together and we get together as often as we can. We work together, we talk pretty much every day, at this point, online. It's a lovely experience. I really do feel like through this process of publication, I've definitely found my people.
Kelly: I feel like I always sound so cheesy, but I'm like make friends, you know? I mean every time people are like, what's your advice for writers? I'm like, make friends, you know, find the people that whose work you like and tell them that you like their work and you know, network in the sense of being an engaged member of the community and you know, get out there and support other writers. Because I feel like ultimately that's what helps you so much. I mean, as you probably know, like a lot of promotional opportunities come from other writers. One of the things that writers get in terms of like going on tour, oftentimes it's like one writer advocates for another. So it really is important to make friends and meet people and find your people.
Mindy: It's very true and it's one of those situations where networking is a business term, but it's also like fun and friendly. It ends off coming out like it's who you know, but that's not really what we're saying. Just having those connections in those terms of having friends makes a huge difference. Um, so like for example, just a couple of weeks ago, and in fact I think it was just last week, I drove to Pittsburgh and back in one day because Kit Frick was having a launch party for her newest release and she asked me to come. Then I was like, yes, I'll be there. So you know, it was like I had the opportunity to go into an area and a market that I hadn't necessarily been to before and Kit wanted to have another author there beside her in order to launch her new title. And I was like, yeah, I'll totally do that.
Mindy: So I drove down to Pittsburgh, we did an event together, it went really well. And while I was there, the staff of the bookstore was like, Hey, we've got this event that goes on a citywide event called Bookish in the Burgh. You really should contact the organizers. We would love to have you. Came home, sent the email, the organizers like yes, if you're driving distance you're in. And I'm like, cool. Kit asked me to do this, like as a favor. I said yes. And now I've got a whole event planned for the winter that wouldn't have come about otherwise.
Kelly: I think that the important thing is that it's like you make friends, you know? Where I always see people getting kind of derailed, they get on a blog and they get like networking advice, which is oftentimes like go in Facebook groups and post 10,000 things about your book. Go to an authors' meeting and get everyone's email address and then spam them with stuff about your book. Like that's not the same thing as making friends. You know, making friends is about human engagement. Being a member of the community, which is a lot different than just like the way that you would go into a scenario, like a sales person.
Mindy: Some of the advice that I see sometimes about like go to an author's signing and promote your book to them and it's like, no, don't do that because it's like that's happened to me multiple times. I did at one event where I was presenting and I was actually like doing it for free in order to promote an upcoming event. I showed up and they were like maybe seven people, which is fine. I mean I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it to promote this larger event over the weekend and I show up and of the seven people that were there, three of them were self published authors that brought their own books to hand to me to ask me to read.
Kelly: Oh my gosh.
Mindy: And I was like, cool, good for you. That's awesome. Self-Publish. Get out there and make those connections. But it's like, you know, I was just handed 12 hours worth of reading material and I tell them, I'm very honest. I'm like, look, I'm not going to have time to read it. If you want to give it to me, I will take it and there is the off chance that it may catch my eye and I'll pick it up and read it. But more than likely this is going to go in the free little library in my hometown and I'm very honest about that. But I'm always like, hey, feel free to email me. I have like a Word document that's like 10 pages long with advice for aspiring writers. Email me, I will send this to you, listen to the podcast, follow the blog. Like I'm happy to help. But when you're in a situation like that, it's like there... I use the word supplicant but I don't mean it in a negative way. I just mean that it's like we're not on an even footing, you know, they're asking me for something. I don't feel like they're, they're wanting to meet me and talk to me. I feel like they want to use me to their own advantage.
Kelly: Well first of all, like so much love for people that self-publish. Like that's a completely valid authorial choice and it's got the difficulties of you have to do your own marketing.
Kelly: There's so much bad advice out there for self published authors. You just know those poor people probably read some articles somewhere that was just like go to an author event and give them a copy of your book so that they can go on their channels and talk about it. And it's kind of like, I mean, I feel really bad about that whole thing because like as you know, just among your writer friends who are publishing, like if you just read every book from writer friends and tried to just keep up on that, it's almost like a full time job.
Kelly: If you've got somebody who's coming in and they're a stranger to you, it's like, it's a pretty big commitment to say like, okay, I'm going to put somebody that I, that's I really care about as a person on hold so that I can read this thing that like you just handed to me and we don't even know each other.
Mindy: Right. And that's the thing. I totally agree. I have absolute respect for self published authors. Um, my friends Kate and Demitria, we do indie publishing with anthologies. We put together different anthologies and we know, I mean, I know how much work it is and how hard it is to get noticed and I know what the hustle is like and how very, very small the rewards can be. Asking someone that you don't know to read your book in the hopes of them promoting it for you? It's not the best approach because I mean, like you said, I don't read all of my friends' books like good friends, very good friends. I don't have time to read all of their books. So, no, I'm not going to read a stranger's book.
Mindy: And then also just because of who I am and the way I was raised, I have total guilt about the fact that they handed me a book because I know for a fact that it costs them money to have this book printed. It probably costs them at a minimum 10 to $15 to have it printed. And it's like they're just, they're handing me something they might be able to sell and make money on and they're giving it to me for free. And then I feel awful because I'm like, dude, I, I should read this, but I'm always completely honest. I'm like, more than likely I'm not going to read this. If you want to give it to me, you can. I never refuse anyone, but I'm telling you 99% I, I'm not going to get to this.
Kelly: That's like a marketing don't
Mindy: Actually, I do think putting your book in a free little library, if you want to give away a book for free and just see if you can get someone to read it and like it and maybe give you a review. Free little libraries. Man, I love them. When I'm driving through a town and I see a free little library, I have boxes of my books, in my car, I will just stop and sign a book and stick it in there and you know, see what happens. You never know those little ripples can really matter. And so that's what I do when someone hands me a self published book, I put it in a free little library.
Kelly: Yeah. But the other piece of the puzzle too is that like oftentimes if you haven't done any self publishing, you don't know a lot about it. Like I myself have never done any self publishing and so if people asked me for advice or promotional advice, I really don't know. I mean it's a totally different game in terms of what self published authors can do and you know, because they can do a lot of things that traditionally published authors can't do. Like they can do price promotions on Amazon or advertisements, like the things that we can't do because like we don't actually quote unquote own the distribution channel of our book.
Kelly: A lot of times I don't know what a good thing for them to do would be. I really just don't know.
Mindy: No, I don't either. You're right. It is a completely different animal. It's like asking a ballet dancer to show you how to do break dancing. Like it's, it's the same world where they have a body and they're using it to dance, but that's it.
Kelly: I will say though, on the marketing don'ts, like also if you go to a conference and they give you a distribution list of everybody's email, do not subscribe those people to your email, your eblast list. I've had probably like three or four people do that to me recently and it's kind of like that is just not the way to market to somebody. I'm not even sure it's, it's a dubious legality actually. If they haven't opted into your communications.
Mindy: That's very true. They have to actually opt in specifically to your list in order for you to add them.
Mindy: Coming up, jumping genres, but still remaining true to your author brand.
Kelly: Yeah, so Day Zero is a young adult thriller. It's set in a near future quasi dystopia and follows a teen hacker Jinx Marshall who believes that her father is responsible for triggering a political and economic crisis. So she's pursued by this group of shadowy paramilitary types. And while she's on the run with her step siblings, she tries to learn the truth about her dad.
Mindy: Why the name Jinx? I'm just curious.
Kelly: My mom had a friend in high school and that was her name and so she was doing something for her high school reunion or something and she was like, and my friend Jinx will be there. I'm like, Jinx? Her name is Jinx? I'm like, I'm using that. That's going in a book. So, hi to the real Jinx. Hopefully I'll get to meet her.
Mindy: It's so cool. So it is very much a genre departure. It's very different from your first one, which was a contemporary more about like a culture reflection than anything. So I'm really curious about the audience that you have drawn to yourself with your first book or do you have any concerns about them following over to the second since the topic is so different?
Kelly: I'm really hoping that readers of Fat Girl will like it. What happened was like it was 2016 and I was trying to pitch all of these companion novels to Fat Girl on a Plane to my publisher. And so I had been trying to write this road trip book with these two characters from Fat Girl on a Plane. Cookie and Piper. And they were going to go on this road trip across America because kind of like we were talking earlier, I really love small town America. So they were going to stop at all these little small towns and kind of go across the country. And then the election happened and I was just so mad all the time and I couldn't work on this funny book that was supposed to be kind of like light in tone. And so I started working on the proposal for Day Zero and I'm lucky that my publisher decided to back it.
Kelly: And I guess how I'm approaching it is what really interests me is girls and women who are trying to perform in roles that are traditionally dominated by men. So in Fat Girl we had Cookie, and even though fashion is perceived as a business that is for women, most of the decision makers are still men. In this particular book I have a teen coder, like a computer programmer. That's something that really, really dominated by men. And so I wanted to kind of have her trying to perform in this environment. And as you know, they talk to us a lot about our author brand. And so I guess that's mine. It's fierce female characters who are for the feminist in all of us. And I think Day Zero aligns with that. So I'm hoping my audience will, will follow along.
Mindy: Besides your novels, you've written essays for Bustle, Salon, Vulture, and even the New York Times. So talk to me a little bit about that because that's some freelancing on a pretty high level. How do you go about placing those pieces?
Kelly: Well, I'm so lucky at InkYard Press to have an amazing publicist. Her name is Laura Giannino. She's amazing and she secured those opportunities for me. What we did is a couple of times prior to Fat Girl coming out, we had some calls where we discussed my experiences as they related to the book and what might be topical and interesting to editors, and then what I'd be comfortable about writing about. Then she went out and approached the editors with the story ideas. I don't know that stuff like that moves the sales needle. It's really, really hard for us to track that as authors. I hope so, but I've gotten some good feedback about the articles and I think it's helped me create more awareness of myself as an author, which I hope will be helpful overall as time goes by.
Mindy: Yeah, exposure is exposure. Plus you have a New York Times byline. I mean, wow.
Kelly: I wish I could write for the New York Times all the time. Hello, New York Times. I'm available to The New York Times, if anyone would like to call me.
Mindy: I'm here for you.
Mindy: Lastly, researching for her prepper novel and where to find Kelly online.
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Mindy: Let's talk a little bit more about Day Zero. What kind of research went into this? I'm sure that you had to learn about some kind of sketchy areas of the human experience.
Kelly: Yeah, I did a ton of research. Like, first of all, I had to go to computer camp and do like tons and tons of programming research just so I could get that part of it right. Because I felt like if I was going to have this character that was really serious about being a coder, I had to know something about it myself. And then the family is this family of... Were like a prepper family. So I had to do tons of research about like prepper food and like survival gear. We did like taste tests of those self heating ration meals, which are like oatmeals and stuff like that. So a lot of it was fun and some of it was difficult.
Mindy: Okay. Tell me about the food. What was that like?
Kelly: Okay. Like the self heating meals are actually really good And so basically what that's like, it's like in a foil pack and it's got an apparatus in it that kind of rapidly heats it up and they're stuff like oatmeal and stew and those are really good. And we got some of like the buckets, they're basically like everything's powderized and then you'd re constitute it to eat it. And those were of varying quality sometimes. Like it didn't exactly have the right texture of like whatever it was supposed to be. But I guess if you were really gonna starve, it would probably be fine.
Mindy: Well, yeah, that's the thing. Whenever people talk about those, how they taste or whatever, it always comes down to if you're starving, these tastes great.
Kelly: Yeah, you wouldn't order it off, you know, if you were at a restaurant and it was like regular food or this reconstituted meal, I'm sure you'd order regular food, but you could survive on these bucket type things.
Mindy: I've looked before at those types of like all in one's survival kits and things like that just at various times in the past with recent news and the things have been going on because I have a really, um, a very nice old basement. Um, you know, underground, it's a full basement, but it was built in like the 1850s. So this is not like a finished element type of basement. But if I had to live down there for some reason I could. And, um, it's something that I had serious like conversations with myself about. I'm like, well, should I be putting food down there? Should we be doing this? Should we be doing that? Like how concerned should we be? You don't want to get concerned too late, you know?
Kelly: You know, like they have that 20 year emergency rations for a family at Costco.
Kelly: But, and that thing comes on an actual pallet, that I'm like, if I got that, where would I keep it? I don't even think like we have room in our house for it so we're not prepared in the event of an emergency, we're going to have to come live in your basement.
Mindy: Okay, well I'll tell you what I tell everyone else. Then you will have to have skill. You will have to, it'll be like the Paper Street house in Fight Club. You'll have to come to the door. You're going to have to prove yourself before you can come in.
Kelly: Actually, I feel like I have no skills. I mean like does knitting count? Can I? I can knit socks.
Mindy: I think knitting counts. Actually. I think knitting is a survival skill.
Mindy: Okay. Then I'm in, I'm in the basement. Sure.
Mindy: That's something that my friends tease me about all the time because I'm... where I live, where we're situated and the different elements that I have around, you know, I have a water source and uh, the boyfriend is a very accomplished hunter. Um, and I'm very accomplished gardener and canner as like, yeah, we could probably probably make it like, you know, assuming that we can still go outside. If we can't go outside the note, we're screwed.
Kelly: Yeah. Well this is sounding better and better. I'm liking the idea of the basement. Now my husband actually has a skill and it's indoor gardening, like with the little like hydroponic lights and stuff.
Mindy: Oh, but he has to have electricity.
Kelly: That's true. He'll have to have electric. He would need that.
Mindy: So if your husband can find a way to generate electricity, like just on his own, like maybe out of his body or something, then he's definitely in.
Kelly: Yeah. But if we can generate electricity out of his body, I'm not sure. No offense, but I don't think we would need you. He'd just basically be a superhero.
Mindy: I know, but I'm just trying to get you to come here now.
Mindy: Last thing, tell us about what you're working on right now and where people can find you online.
Kelly: So right now I'm working on the sequel to Day Zero, which is called Day One and it should be coming out in late 2020 and then I'm also working on a zombie novel, which is like zombies at a fat camp. So I'm super excited about that.
Mindy: God that sounds hilarious.
Kelly: I just finished it and I'm super proud of it, you know with Fat Girl on a Plane and there were a lot of things about the predatory nature of diet culture that I didn't really get to talk about because otherwise the book will be like 10,000 pages long. So I got to put a lot of that content in this book and I'm super, super excited about it.
Mindy: I am super curious about it. So can you talk about it much like is it campy, like what's it, what's it like?
Kelly: It's got some funny parts of it, but it's, it's basically, it was kind of like my feeling that a lot of elements of diet culture essentially turn people into monsters. And I kind of thought like, what if it turned them into literal monsters like zombies? And so that's kind of like the concept of the book and it's got some funny moments in it and I think it's got some good characters, so it's just awesome.
Mindy: Alright, so tell people where they can find you online.