I first met Elizabeth Corcoran Murray when she was a student in my Nonfiction Book Proposal class in the Winter of 2012. At that time her memoir, about the year she spent working as a goatherd in southern France, was titled Of Goats and Gods. Fast forward two years, and the memoir now called A Long Way from Paris, has been published by Plicata Press and named one of the Kirkus Best Books of 2014. I wanted to know more about Elizabeth’s path to success so I asked her to answer these questions.
1. Tell me about the inspiration for the book.
I always dreamed about being a writer but didn’t do anything about it until after graduating from college. I went to Europe, picturing myself living in Paris and writing. Instead, I took a long detour to the mountains of Languedoc in southern France, where I worked as a goatherd for a farming family, and that detour became the story I told in A Long Way from Paris.
2. When did you first start writing the memoir?
Thirty years after that trip, I had a Masters in Social Work and a family. I lived on a small island and took continuing education classes at the community college just for fun–mah-jongg, interior decorating, and children’s writing. The last class reignited my love of writing. In 2008, I dug out my old journals that I kept while working on the farm and started writing the story of how I changed from an inexperienced, stiffly-bodied city girl to a strong, confident, country woman.
3. What was most helpful to you during the writing process?
1.) A supportive family. I brought in no income at all for two years during the time I studied writing..
2.) Classes. I learned the craft of writing through taking classes online, at the community college, through the University of Washington’s Continuing Education program, at Hugo House, at Southampton Writers Conference, at the NY Writers Intensive, and at conferences. I also made enduring friends through classes –friends who have come to mean the world to me. Their nudges and encouragement propelled me through the rough times when I almost quit in frustration.
3.) Reading one hundred books in my genre.
4. I know you took my book proposal class. I wonder if that affected the manuscript at all. Were you done with the writing at that point or did you continue to work on it?
I thought I’d finished, but in fact, the manuscript underwent several revisions for two years. I remember writing my book proposal in sunny Pismo Beach during my daughter’s college tour. The proposal forced me to focus on identifying my target audience and figuring out its category–in other words, all the questions one needs to sell a book. Learning how to write a synopsis helped me to understand my own work more deeply. Because of the work on the proposal, the book landed on the Travel Literature bookshelf, not Memoir, as I first imagined it would. The most important point was to identify my target audience. Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured out why some people absolutely love A Long Way from Paris, and others don’t. [Ed. I have to admit that for me it was such an adventure, one I probably would never have undertaken or survived, but I enjoyed learning what life was like on a primitive rural farm in the middle of a snowy winter in 1980 and seeing it through the eyes of a young woman who was reading deeply. asking important questions and paying careful attention to the world around her.]
5. What was your strategy as you looked for a publisher?
The old fashioned way: meeting agents and editors at the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) and Surrey writing conferences; writing to resources listed in Writers Marketplace; contacting agents and editors who published friends’ works.
6. Did you have any setbacks or make any major changes as you sent your work out?
Setbacks? Oh, yes. I received seventy to eighty rejections. I revised the “final” manuscript six times.
7. What was the publication process like?
I received ten positive responses from New York agents and/or editors who requested first thirty pages, then one hundred pages, then the full manuscript, and POW! Rejection. With hope rising, then dashed, I wanted to find out how good my book was from an objective source, so I shelled out four-hundred-and-fifty dollars for a Kirkus review. They raved about A Long Way from Paris.
At that point I thought, I’m going to try a different way. I’d published Life Kind of Sucks, a tiny book for “bad hair days” through Create Space, so I knew the pros and cons of self-publishing, and didn’t want to do that again. So I began researching smaller publishers.
I knew Jan Walker, the editorial director of Plicata Press, a small, independent press which has published approximately twenty books by fourteen authors. Jan selects works, educates authors and publishes the books. When she told me she would like to work with me, I was happy to pay the minimal fee required for her services. Jan edited the manuscript, steered me towards resources I needed, invited me to PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) and taught me about the publication and distribution process. My contract with Plicata Press gives me full rights to the book. A Long Way from Paris, therefore, sells in three spheres: on-line, in bookstores, and through my own personal sales at places like the Portland Book Festival in July.
A few weeks BEFORE publication, I was notified that A Long Way from Paris was named one of the Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Indie Books of 2014 by Kirkus but we were not allowed to announce it until December 15. We delayed publication until we could publish with the Kirkus seal on the cover.
8. I love the cover and the title. What’s the story behind those?
For many years the working title of the book was Languedoc, which resonated with those who knew Languedoc, but most people didn’t. Then I tried out the title Of Goats and Gods, because it’s a book about the spiritual connection to the land. I also thought about Herd since one word titles are popular. Another title, The Urban Goatherd, turned out to be misleading, since people assumed I was writing about raising goats in the city.
I wanted a title that rang true to the theme, but also would sell. I heard Woody Allen say in an interview that one reason “Midnight in Paris” was such a success was because people are enchanted by “midnight” and “Paris.” Something clicked in my mind. I had intended to spend my time in Paris originally, so I could use “Paris.” But I wanted to compare how very different my experience had been from what I expected, thus “A Long Way from…” I searched Amazon and Google to be sure no one else was using the title before making my final decision to call my memoir A Long Way from Paris.
I had a flash of inspiration for the cover, imagining a goat with an Eiffel Tower in its mouth. I sent a scribble to my artist niece, Lindsay E. Squires, who drew the darling goat. She and her graphic artist friend, Zach LaMance, created the beautiful front and back cover. I love it too.
9. How did you get all those great blurbs?
The blurbs are mostly from my teachers or authors I interviewed for my Web site, The Writers Connection. I asked people who influenced me or were connected to the subject matter in some way. For example, there’s a chapter about mushroom hunting I thought Langdon Cook would appreciate. I credit Carlene Cross with suggesting I read one hundred books of my genre and dedicate my blog to her –“On the road to writing one memoir and reading one hundred.”
10. I know you’ve done a fabulous job letting people know about your book. Tell me more about what you’ve been doing to get recognition for your work.
First, thank you. Book marketing is an entirely new field. Luckily, my book is distributed by Partners and Ingram, which means anyone can get my book fairly easily. Also, I got an early boost with people reaching out to me to speak at the Kiwanis, to share a book launch in Gig Harbor, and to speak at book clubs. I wrote a letter to Barnes and Noble in New York, and then the Silverdale B & N called me for an event.
I did a Kindle free giveaway which led to 3,000 downloads (after following directions I found on a book marketing YouTube video) and that led to many more sales. I may do another Goodreads giveaway, but the first wasn’t too fruitful. I’ve sent books to Midwest Book Review and a few contests, so we’ll see what that brings.
I am my own marketer and promoter, and since I now teach and tutor at Tacoma Community College, I have less time to market my book. I call bookstores and libraries to see if they want to stock my book or have me speak. I listen to book marketing YouTube videos all the time and find them helpful. My sisters back East have been helpful, and a family friend set up an event in Southampton, Massachusetts.One of my professors from UW, Scott Driscoll, has asked me to speak at his class; he also gave me a number of tips on marketing. I’m open to any suggestions and trying to learn all I can.
12. Would you do anything differently if you could start over?
I’ve now discovered one of my best friends is a phenomenal copy editor. I would have had her fix mistakes before I went to press. As it is, I’m doing a new edition in April.
13. What’s next?
The Harvard Street Heist is a mystery with two women who’ve endured a complicated friendship. The book should be a fun diversion from the intense emotions of A Long Way from Paris.
Elizabeth Corcoran Murray teaches and tutors at Tacoma Community College. A Pushcart nominee, Elizabeth writes on parenting, travel, and disabilities. Elizabeth has a Masters degree in social work and is a member of American Pen Women, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and a former president of Gig Harbor’s American Association of University Women. Raised in Massachusetts, she lives on Fox Island, Washington. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, on twitter @urbangoatherd, or through her Web site: www.ecmurray.com.