Give the people what they want by Maggie Kast

Maggie reading at Sally'sMaggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Carve, Paper Street and others.

A chapter of her memoir, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, won a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council and a Pushcart nomination. A story published in Rosebud and judged by Ursula Leguin won an Honorable Mention in their fantasy fiction contest.

Kast’s essays have appeared in America, Image, Writer’s Chronicle and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, is forthcoming from Fomite Press in November 2015. An excerpted story, “The Hate that Chills,” won 3rd prize in the Hackney Literary Contests and is forthcoming in the Birmingham Arts Journal.

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Let’s say you’ve written a book of fiction or memoir. Only you can know your painstaking search for le mot juste, your carefully crafted plot twists or months of research, the agonizing edits and rewrites that brought your book to birth. Now you hold it in your hands and face a new and painful question: who wants your book? What do people actually want?

Like all of us, people want helpful information that will ease some burden in their lives. What hurdles does your protagonist or narrator face? How does he or she tackle them? This kernel of information in your novel or memoir can lead you to the groups that want your book.

  1. Share the obstacles your characters face with like-minded interest groups. With my first book, a memoir about loss of a child, this meant support groups for parents with similar losses. Since my first career was in dance, it meant dancers, dance companies and dance associations. And since the book explored a spiritual journey, it meant church-based book groups and lecture series as well as teaching and speaking about the arts as spiritual path. At book events I stressed discussion and sharing of personal experience.
  2. Dare to take advantage of the unexpected or unlikely. Shortly after the release of my novel, A Free Unsullied Land, I planned a visit to family near Vienna, Austria, my late husband’s birthplace. I searched for, found, and contacted Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers, an English-language bookstore, but got no response. A relative in Vienna checked out the store and reported that a reading for me was unlikely. Then my son explored the store more deeply and talked to the owner. Ultimately my trip was enriched by a lovely, intimate reading in a marvelous bookstore, and I sold all the books I had brought. This was not the first time I experienced rejection and then succeeded on a later try. Dare to knock twice!

Many years ago a faculty member of Rosebud School of Theatre Arts, near Calgary, Alberta, was home for vacation and came across my memoir on an Oregon bookstore’s shelf. She used the book in a class, and one of her students wrote to me. I pursued the correspondence with  teacher and student, and a week’s guest teaching eventually followed. Turning over every stone can yield some unlikely forms of life.

  1. Play Fair with bookstores and with not-for-profit groups. The former have to make money and can’t stock books that might not sell. Offer to provide copies on consignment. Even if they order, bring some extras, in case your crowd is bigger than they thought.

If your work deals with homelessness or hunger, social justice or abuse, seek out the not-for profits that focus on these issues. Offer to donate half of all proceeds from books sold at the event to their group. This is a win-win for you and the group. You get the income to offset against expenses, while you also get the tax deduction for your contribution. I recently did a shared event with Still Point Theatre Collective, focused on my protagonist, Henriette’s trip to Scottsboro Alabama, 1931, to protest the unfair trials and convictions of the nine young men known as the “Scottsboro Boys.” We sat in a circle and had a lively discussion about how these events of the 1930s relate to events of today. Both the group and I gained from every book sold.

In spring I’ll be collaborating with Hook and Eye Theatre Company in New York on a shared event. I’ve no idea how we’ll use our time together, but I’m confident that it will give my book new life and benefit us both.


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