Jennifer Tress had stories to tell. She packed her funny and relatable life experiences into a new book, You're Not Pretty Enough, and sought out ways to get her tales to readers. After years of being given the runaround, Jennifer decided to take control and independently publish. Read on for Jennifer's latest story about how she wrote and published her book, reached bestseller lists, and earned national press attention.
Tell us about your book.
I wrote You're Not Pretty Enough, my book of true stories, over the course of five years. It was always going to be a book of humorous, short nonfiction stories, but which stories and how to tell them evolved during the writing and editing process. Ultimately, the stories I included were those that represented the defining moments in my life so far. They are stories that are hilarious, heartfelt, and relatable. At the end of the day, You're Not Pretty Enough provides an example of how to be comfortable in your own skin and ultimately live a full life (even if you screw up royally along the way).
Care to share your author bio?
I am still working as a strategy consultant, but am transitioning out of that. Over the past three years, my writing has appeared in magazines, anthologies, and online.
How did you come to independent publishing?
I had been pitching to agents and traditional houses for years and getting great feedback. It always came in phases. Phase 1: initial pitch (you're a great writer, this is very engaging, but...the second half needs work). And so I re-wrote and then went on to Phase 2: you need more of a marketing platform. So I built that up significantly and finally, Phase 3: all of this is great, but you're not famous enough yet. Contact me when you are! I was ready to share my book with readers, and realized I could through independent publishing.
I knew there were a lot of avenues available to independent authors, and I did my research. CreateSpace was the best option for me. I liked the services CreateSpace offered, I liked the online tools, and I also liked that I had access to live professionals who were excellent and really easy to work with. I was really impressed with how personal and customized the experience was. I didn't feel like a number, I felt like a client CreateSpace was proud to serve.
Tell us about your marketing efforts. How did you get the word out about your book?
I have a lot of experience in marketing and communications. It's something I've been doing for 15 years for clients, but my book marketing strategy came together very organically. In 2010, I began telling my stories live onstage in D.C. and NYC. The one that most resonated with people was the one derived from the title - you're not pretty enough - which is something my ex said to me as our marriage was dissolving.
When I was establishing a web presence, I chose that phrase as the URL. And then something interesting happened: I embedded analytics on my website and could see that people were finding me by searching some variation of the phrase "am I pretty enough" Month after month, thousands of searches were bringing people to me on the web, searching for an answer to that question. It saddened me of course, but it also spurred me to action. I conceptualized a safe space where girls and women could go to explore the "you're not pretty enough" feeling in a way that was authentic, empowered, and productive. I worked with colleges in the D.C. area and set up on campuses to administer surveys and collect video responses similar to Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project (an anti-bullying campaign aimed at LGBTQ youth). In August 2012, I turned over the site with all new content and began giving talks around colleges and salons. I met a reporter at one of these talks who helped me get some key press coverage: the first with Marie Claire and the second with The Washington Post.
What are your goals with your book project?
I wanted my book to be indistinguishable from those released though traditional houses. Most readers don't care if it's "anointed" by the big publishing houses; they just want a good book. It needs to be polished and of good quality. CreateSpace was a true partner in helping me deliver on that, as was my cover designer, a good friend of mine whom I've known since the third grade and is a graphic designer.
What have been some of your biggest successes so far?
All the positive press - in addition to the two profiles from Marie Claire and The Washington Post, the book and I have been featured on Good Morning America, Huffington Post Women (and Live), Jezebel, Yahoo/AOL, and much more, including international press. And the media requests keep coming. The Kindle version has consistently been in the top 10 for humor essays on Amazon.com since its release (alongside David Sedaris, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and others). It's wonderfully surreal!
What advice would you offer your fellow authors?
Own your subject and think about the reader, always. Try to answer every question and make it satisfying for them. To do that, you need feedback from other writers and your target audience. I had friends read, I was in a writing group, I told stories live on stage - whatever it took to understand and then deliver a satisfying experience for both myself and the reader. I didn't take every piece of feedback, but I took a lot of it and the book is better for it.