I met Mari Passananti through a mutual author friend, Wendy Walker, and I’m so glad I did. She is truly the sort of person who makes her own luck and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. In 2011, after leaving a longterm law career to pursue her real dream of writing, she published THE HAZARDS OF HUNTING WHILE HEARTBROKEN with her own Rutland Square Press. Two years later, she veered off the “chick lit” path dramatically to release a political thriller called THE K STREET AFFAIR.
Like self-publishing phenom Heather Gaynor, she’s an inspiration to every writer who has what it takes to make it in the big leagues and won’t stay put until she gets there. I’m honored to have her here today.
After the interview, leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of one of her books. This week, you’ll have two chances!
1. You practiced law for many years before deciding to take the plunge and try your hand at writing full-time. Was this something you always knew you wanted to do? If so, what gave you the push to finally take that leap and how did you make the transition?
I practiced law at the beginning of my career, and left law firm life to become a headhunter, which I did happily for several years. I always wanted to write, and I had flirted with the idea of writing a book for I don’t know how long. Then I had one of those milestone birthdays that makes you stop and think, and I decided to go for it.
This may sound macabre, but I looked in the mirror, realized that (in actuarial terms) I’m probably halfway out of time, and that if I want to reinvent myself, to take a stab at making it as an author, I had to get to it.
I had one of two key things I should have had when I took the plunge: a bit of a financial safety net. Little did I know that I would also need a tribe. I thought writers lived a solitary existence, that they worked at cluttered desks surrounded by cats and overgrown plants. Maybe that works for some teeny minority, but I think most of us benefit from robust discussion with other professionals about both the craft and business of fiction.
2. Both of your novels (THE K STREET AFFAIR and THE HAZARDS OF HUNTING WHILE HEARTBROKEN) were published by theRutland Square Press, which you formed in 2011 (please correct this if the year is wrong – or let me know if it’s correct). Can you talk a bit about what led to this decision?
With THE HAZARDS: Chutzpah. Impatience. Newbie enthusiasm. Confidence in my sales and management skills, and confidence in the professional editor with whom I work. Plus a traditional deal falling apart. The experience with THE HAZARDS was fun and modestly profitable, and K STREET, while a suspense novel, is a really quirky book that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre slot. I didn’t think it would sell to the big houses, so when I finished the book in early 2012, I never shopped it at all. Mistake? Perhaps.
3. Spreading the word is one of the most daunting aspects of self-publishing. What did you do to get your titles out there?
I beg everyone I know who belongs to a book club, or who knows someone who belongs to a book club, to consider my books.I love book club visits. I hired a publicist and got some nice reviews. I did a blog tour. I did two very targetedGoodreads giveaways. I gave readings at my local public library for each of my books. Libraries are great to local authors, at least in my experience. I wrote a piece relevant to K STREET for Writer’s Digest, about putting your politics in your novel.
4. Your most recent novel, THE K STREET AFFAIR, is a political thriller, while your debut has been described as chick lit. Do you prefer one genre over another or do you just write and worry about categorization later?
I just write and worry about the category later. I think I suffer from some bizarre attention disorder. I get lost in a world for months and months, to the exclusion of all else, but them I’m done and I want to learn about something else.
I love thrillers and “chick lit” and I always read them on vacation, on airplanes, or after reading something super heavy, e.g., a Holocaust novel or any story about characters living under a repressive regime. The majority of what I read actually veers more “literary,” as does my work in progress. I don’t love labels, and I feel like there’s a lot of crossover between the commercial and literary camps, but everyone uses them, so I will play along.
5. You entered the business towards the beginning of the self-publishing revolution. In your experience, how have attitudes and resources changed for the better since you began? Have they worsened at all?
That’s funny. I thought I was late to the party. It’s so very crowded and people are getting cranky. I can’t comment on the large scale resources or products or packages. I wanted an independent press that produces a product that looks like it has a big house behind it. I think publishing is like any other business: if you want the industry to take you seriously, you must behave like a professional at all times. RSP hires an editor, a cover designer, an interior/layout designer, an e-book architect and other professionals. I’d advise any author thinking about publishing through an independent press to look at the finished product. If you want to sell foreign, film or audio rights, you almost definitely need an agent. You need a realistic marketing and publicity plan and budget, because as an indie, you can forget seeing your upcoming release reviewed in the NYT. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the reality of the business.
6. What can fans expect next? Are you working on a third novel? Do you expect the Rutland Square Press to begin publishing other authors?
I am almost done with a rough draft of a third novel, which means the hard part is about to begin. The book is a more “literary” project than either THE HAZARDS or K STREET, and I’m excited about it. The novel looks at the relationship between aid and exploitation in the developing world, modern colonialism, and racism, through the eyes of three very different women.
RSP gets queries with astonishing frequency, and some of them are quite good. A novel would need to knock my socks off, and the author would need to be someone whose sense and sensibility were sympatico with mine, because an expansion of the list would basically constitute a business partnership with that author. I never say never.
7. How did you weather the inevitable rough patches?
I used what I learned in years of sales (because headhunting is sales, at the end of the day): There is no “no.” You just keep going.
One thing I’ve realized is that distribution is a huge challenge, and it’s one of the key reasons I plan to shop my next book the traditional route. Small presses cannot handle returns like the big houses, and while no author likes to think about his or her work being returned unsold, the inability to provide this service presents a huge hurdle. Book sellers won’t order books they cannot send back, which means they don’t want to host author events for those books, either. Indie presses also face a steeper uphill climb than the traditional houses (which already compete fiercely for review space) in getting their titles reviewed by major media outlets, even with the help of a talented publicist on hand.
I’ve found that the writers who seem happiest, and make the most money, on their own, or with tiny indie presses, tend to write in a specific genre, if not a series, and they tend to produce at least a title a year, and they have at least fifty or sixty hours a week to devote to writing and marketing. Or they have a platform, a following, and a track record, before they make a change from traditional to self or indie publishing.
8. What’s the best piece of advice you can share with aspiring writers who are considering self-publishing?
Everyone likes to point to the outliers. The wild stories like the woman with the bondage books. Nobody can predict what catches on, and chances are staggering your book will not become the next hot, household name vampire/bondage thing. You need to have a plan for when you’re not in that .001 percent.
The basic advice for anything entrepreneurial holds true: You must be tenacious, organized, and willing to invest. It takes money to make money. Allison Winn Scotch had a great piece on her jump from traditional to self publishing on WriterUnboxed this week. Everyone should read that post.
But before you even reach the publishing stage, you must write a good book. A great book. No shortcuts here. I think anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer, who throws a book out there without either working with a professional editor or workshopping the novel with a reputable writing program, is stacking the deck against him/herself.
Mari blogs about life, motherhood, current events, and whatever else strikes her imagination at thelittlegrape.blogspot.com. Be sure to keep up with her there, on Twitter, and at MariPassanantiBooks.com.
Comment below to win a signed copy of either THE HAZARDS OF HUNTING WHILE HEARTBROKEN or THE K STREET AFFAIR. Please specify if you are only interested in one. The giveaway will remain open until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, January 16, at which point we’ll pick two winners at random. Best of luck to you all!
(Please note that, due to cost, the books can be shipped to U.S. and Canada only.)
WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
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69 responses to “Giveaway & Interview with Mari Passananti: “You just keep going””
I admire your courage and independence in self publishing–your books sound great, too.
She’s quite an inspiration. Thanks for leaving a comment, Cathleen!
Thank you so much for your kind words!
Very interesting interview! 🙂 Reinforces my desire to read these books! I’ll be moving them up my to-read this pronto!
Also, I absolutely adore this line!
“I used what I learned in years of sales (because headhunting is sales, at the end of the day): There is no “no.” You just keep going.”
True on both the relevance of real life situations and sales technique! 🙂
Thanks for reading! Keeping at it always seemed more appealing than the alternative. 🙂
The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken has been on my “to read” list forever. The title alone hooked me. I have no doubt that it is an excellent book, and more than likely I will be adding Mari Passananti to my favorite authors list. 🙂 Wonderful interview; I admire that she took the plunge and went for her dream.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS.
The ‘K’ Street Affair is on my to-read list and after reading this interview, I want to read it even more. It is inspiring to read of Mari’s journey from law to her passion. I love that she gives credit to her ‘tribe’. We often think that we have to go it alone, but we really win when we work with others.
Only a few have the constitution and temperament to go it alone. I’m a social person, and I was so relieved to realize that writing need not be a reclusive pursuit. Thanks for reading,and I hope you enjoy K ST.
Great interview! The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken is on my “want to read” list. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS.
Enjoyed reading the interview. Loved the headhunting comment as well; I can relate (former headhunter). Look forward to reading both of her books!
Thanks for reading. Curious: in which industry did you headhunt? Do you miss it? I hope you enjoy K ST and THE HAZARDS.
The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken sounds like a great book I would love read. I really enjoyed this interview. Wonderful post and thank you for the giveaway!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS.
The synopsis of The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken totally caught my attention and had me add it on my constantly growing to-read list but somehow I still haven’t managed to read it yet. It’d be lovely if I could get my hands on a copy and know that I could finally get around to reading it!
I hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS. Thanks for reading!
Oh my gosh I’ve had The Hazards of Hunting while Heartbroken on mu To-Read list for forever! This was a great interview and I loved hearing how Mari decided to make the jump into writing. Thanks!
Thanks so much, and hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS.
Hi everyone! I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to Laura for sharing our interview. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to interact with readers and potential readers. I promise to reply to all your comments and apologize if I’m not doing so in real time: My son has no preschool on Wednesdays and I need to keep him from self-destructing. 🙂
Enjoy those days–my nest has emptied in the past three weeks–lost my dog to old age, my son to another town for a job and my daughter back to college. I work days and my husband nights through the weekend. The house is too quiet:)
I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. Best of luck with the big life change of empty nesting. If it’s unbearably quiet, I recommend adopting a new four-legged friend. 🙂
Thanks Mari! It’s my pleasure. I’m so glad you and everyone else had a good time. All writers need stories like yours to keep them going!
Thank you for the chance of winning a book. I look forward to reading The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken either way.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy it!
Chick-lit to political thriller? That’s wonderful! What versatility! Your next book sounds like it will be very interesting too. And I love ‘quirky’! 🙂
I love quirky an awful lot. I remember many years ago, Helen Fielding released this super quirky books Olivia Joules—loved it, but it never caught on with nearly the fervor of Bridget Jones.
Your published books are two completely different genres and it sounds like the one you are working on is something different from both. Why the change-up?
*I am only interested in THE HAZARDS OF HUNTING WHILE HEARTBROKEN.
Great question. I think I have two reasons: I have eclectic reading tastes, so perhaps my varied writing interests stem from that. I have all these characters in my head and the ones who speak loudest/most clearly to me get their stories written. I know that sounds a bit squirrelly, but it’s the best way I can think to describe it.
I hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS, and if chick lit is a favorite genre of yours, please know that I haven’t ruled out re-visiting the genre and/or Zoe and her friends.
I’m a lawyer who reads a lot, and hopes to leave the profession behind at some point….my friends all think that I should write a novel but without the “a bit of a financial safety net” lined up yet, I haven’t quite taken the plunge. When I heard about “The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken,” I knew it would fit right at home on my “to-read” list….like you, I need to alternate chick lit with the heavier, more literary fiction and non-fiction that I read, or on airplanes and beaches when I travel (of which my work requires a lot). Looking forward to your next effort as well….
Thanks so much and best of luck with whichever career path you ultimately choose!
I have wanted to read this for a while now! I love to hear successful self-publishing stories! Kudos!!
Thanks very much!
Thank you for seeking me out, I arrived here fast as fast as my fingers would carry me 🙂 looking forward to reading this book, at the moment I have it marked to read
I hope you enjoy it!
Although I’m Canadian and thus can not win, I am still very much looking forward to reading your works. I wish you continued success!
Thank you very much for the good wishes. I hope you enjoy K ST and THE HAZARDS.
Oops! Should’ve told you Canada and US residents can win, as I understand the site’s rules. 🙂
I can’t wait to read “The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken” and I wanted to thank you for letting me know of this giveaway 🙂
So happy to hear that. Hope you enjoy it!
Got a tip on Goodreads that this was the place to be. I’ve had “The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken” on my to-read bookshelf for sometime and look forward to the opportunity to read it!
Haha. So glad you could join the party!
A what a party, Laura! Thanks again for the opportunity. I’m so delighted by the warm reception and interest in my books.
The books sound great – I’d love to read them!
I hope you enjoy them! Thank you!
I’d love to read The K Street Affair. Sounds like a top read 🙂
So delighted you think so, and I really hope you enjoy it.
Enjoyed your interview very much. Loved your straight forward advice for aspiring writers. I shall just remain an avid reader with respect for those who take the plunge. I look forward to reading “The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken”. Your third work sounds intriguing!
Thanks so much for the kind words. Hope you enjoy the books.
Looks like a great read– I’ll add to my TBR list- thanks!
And that cover is cute as anything!! Very eye catching.
I love both covers. The extremely talented Regina Starace them.
I would love to read both books. I have had The K Street Affair on my to-read list on Goodreads for a while. After reading the description, I have added The Hazards of Hunting while Heartbroken as well. Both sound excellent!
Thanks so much, and hope you enjoy them.
Hi Leah! Thanks for stopping by, and I’m thrilled to announce you’ll have an opportunity to take K Street off your to-read list very soon. Check your inbox 😉
I would love to read your book. It was interesting to hear about your journey in self-publishing.
Thanks. It’s a journey still in progress, and I’m always re-evaluating my options. The trouble with independent publishing is I feel like I need a clone of myself: one of us to write, the other to run the business.
From one South Kingstonian to another – congratulations on your success! 🙂
I actually grew up in North Kingstown, but I’ll take it…thank you!
Oh! Goodreads lies. I’ll try again: congrats from a fellow Rhody Ram! QuadAngles is actually where I read about the K Street Affair, which remains (much to my frustration) on my “To Read Sometime Over the Summer” list. But I’m looking forward to it!
I’ll have to check out the Goodreads information. Thanks for the heads up. I am indeed a URI alumna. 🙂
The K Street Affair is on my to-read list!
I’m delighted to hear that and hope you enjoy it.
I admire anyone who dreams a dream and then goes for it. I too am at a milestone birthday and thinking I really need to reinvent myself. Inspirational.
Happy birthday, and best of luck with whichever path you choose!
The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken has been on my to-read list for quite a while. As a 21 year old female college student finding my own way in the world, I feel like I could relate quite a bit to the character within the story. Congratulations to Mari Passananti for making it through your own journey of becoming a published author! I’m sure it was a tough, emotional process, but well worth it in the end! I can’t wait to read your book! 🙂
Congrats to you on your impending graduation and best of luck with all your decision making. I hope you enjoy THE HAZARDS.
Hi Jessica! Looks like you’ll have an opportunity to take Hazards off your to-read list very soon! Thanks for stopping by … and check your inbox 😉