Archive for Self Publishing

Self Publishing, Work-Life Balance, Working Motherhood

I Know What You Really Want For Mother’s Day

I have an issue with Mother’s Day.

Kate Hilton, Mothers Day, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Book Club, Book Clubs
Has there ever been a holiday better designed to elicit seething resentment than this one?  It is a day that promises a warm bath of gratitude for your maternal contributions to the family, but more often delivers teacher-assigned crayon-and-construction paper cards, along with a gift certificate obtained by your frazzled husband after running out to the nearest store on foot while leaving you with the kids (on Mother’s Day).

And then there are the other mothers: your mother, your spouse’s mother, grandmothers and various hangers-on who believe, perhaps fairly, that it’s their turn to have a decent Mother’s Day celebration, now that there is a grown women in their lives capable of delivering one.  That’s you, by the way.

In fact, I’ve concluded that the only person who can give you what you really want for Mother’s Day is you.  And it’s not a spa day, or chocolate, or flowers, although they each have their place in a woman’s life.

I think what you really want for Mother’s Day is to know that there is still an essential ‘you’ that exists outside the many roles that you occupy – mother, wife, daughter, friend, boss, employee, volunteer – and to know, also, that your particular, unique, imperfect you is someone worth celebrating.

Exactly a year ago this week, I gave myself an extraordinary gift for Mother’s Day.  I self-published the novel I had been writing secretly for four years.  That novel, The Hole in the Middle, explores the inner life of an overburdened and dissatisfied working mother who feels that she is failing on all fronts.  And even though it wasn’t, and isn’t, autobiographical, it took a staggering amount of courage to put it out into the world, to claim a new identity for myself as a writer, and to start talking about the complex feelings that many, if not most, women have about motherhood and marriage.

How many of us truly understood at the beginning that a wedding is the opening chapter of a story, not the conclusion, and that the narrative arc of a marriage has joy, yes, but also rage and sorrow and disappointment and misunderstanding – even in the happiest of unions?   How many of us knew that we would love our children so much that it would terrify us, but that we would also resent the erosion of our independent personhood, and wonder why our husbands didn’t feel similarly eroded?  Or how much more often we would dwell on our failures than on our successes as wives and mothers – and how angry it would make us that our spouses weren’t similarly afflicted with self-doubt?

Few of us, I would bet.  Which is, perhaps, why we lie so much to each other and to ourselves about how satisfied we are with our Facebook-picture-perfect lives.

The gift I gave myself a year ago was to step beyond the safe territory of roles and give my essential self some room of her own.  It’s been scary, often, because change is hard even when necessary and welcome.  But mostly, it’s been liberating.

It’s been liberating to hear women from across the country tell me that my work makes them feel less alone.  It’s been liberating to know, not just believe, that I have a creative talent in me that needs expression.  It’s been liberating to show my kids by example what it means to work hard for a dream – and make it happen.  And it’s been liberating to celebrate my own particular, unique, imperfect me.

This year, give yourself a Mother’s Day gift that matters.  Step outside the roles that you perform so very, very well, and give yourself the gift of self-knowledge, of self-expression, and of self-worth.  No one else can give it to you, and you deserve it.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Self Publishing

The Accidental Social Media Guru

Kate Hilton, Social Media Guru, Self-Publishing, Self Publishing, Best Selling Author, The Hole in the MiddleI first discovered that I was a social media guru, at least in the world of fiction writers (an admittedly low bar), when CBC called to interview me about it.  I was incredibly flattered, but knew it was only a matter of time before I was revealed as a shameless imposter. My long-suffering spouse, who has been my on-call computer technician for the past sixteen years is only too happy to confirm: I’m technologically incompetent.

Last May, however, I self-published my first novel, The Hole in the Middle, as an e-book.  I promoted it through a range of social media channels, and suddenly I had 13,000 downloads, an agent, a book deal with HarperCollins, and a reputation as a social media expert.

But here’s the honest truth: I opened accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and several other sites less than a year ago so that I could build an audience for my book.  I’d resisted them for years.  They seemed like vehicles for narcissism at best (‘Look, everyone!  I’m having a coffee at Starbucks!’) and for escalating insecurity at worst (‘I thought my last tweet was hilarious.  Why hasn’t anyone followed me?  Why?).  But, having decided to launch The Hole in the Middle for Mother’s Day, I was on a tight timeline.  I needed to get friended, asap.

The most useful advice came from my friend Leah Eichler, who advised me that social technologies generate true connections between people when they mimic familiar social behaviors.  Twitter, she said, was like passing notes in class, while LinkedIn was like handing out your business card at a professional dinner.

This made sense to me.  On Facebook, for example, the best posts seemed like the sort of news you’d call your sister or close girlfriend about (‘Did you see that Jimmy Fallon clip?’ or ‘The recipe you gave me for spicy brisket was amazing!’ or ‘The kids decided to cut their own hair!’); while the worst ones reminded me of the overwrought Christmas letters that seem to have fallen out of vogue with the dawn of Facebook, where you can now post updates on your family’s perfection multiple times a day instead of only once a year.

Happily, observing and recreating social behavior is something that I, and every other writer that ever put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), can do.  I tried to ignore the medium and focus on the message.  I passed notes on Twitter (‘I don’t think your cat likes you as much as you think it does’) and I phoned my girlfriends on Facebook (‘Oh my god!  I just saw my book in a bookstore!).  And the more I did it, the easier it got.

No one is more surprised than I am that all of these social communications, over the course of a year, have produced genuine feelings of connection.  I’ve rediscovered friends that I’d lost touch with over the years.  I’ve met new people through a shared interest in books and writing.  I followed one friend’s cancer diagnosis and treatment; cheered for others in real time as they competed in marathons, charity bike races and Tough Mudders; and invited neighbors to shelter at my house during the Toronto ice storm – all on social media.

And here is what I learned from my year-long immersion course (which, now that you know I’m an imposter, you can take or leave): the true magic of social media is not that it mimics real-life behavior, but that it produces social ties in the real – not merely the online – world.  My foray into social media has broadened my circle of friends and colleagues and made my life richer and more interesting.

But, social media expert or no, I never use emoticons.  You have to #drawtheline somewhere.

Self Publishing, The Writing Life

Life Begins at 40

03-06-14_KateHilton19-184I remember my dad’s 40th birthday. I had a majestic Lady Di haircut and a red dress made of the finest polyester, with puffed sleeves and a neck ruffle.  My sisters and I sat on the edge of the room in our finery and watched my parents’ friends joke with each other about how old they were.  We agreed.  They were, like, totally old.

My dad got a cool new car that year – a red convertible – and we drove to school with great excitement for a few months until it became clear that the plastic windows in the convertible roof had poor visibility and weak insulation, and that the backseat was too small for three girls keen on personal space. The convertible was kicked to the curb as soon as the lease was up, and replaced with some practical vehicle, suitable for family life and Canadian winter.  My dad still describes the red convertible as the worst car he ever had.  How’s that for a metaphor?

The expression ‘Life begins at 40’ was in heavy circulation among baby boomers back then, the first sign that my parents’ generation had no intention of following the prescribed script for graceful ageing.  As a quietly judgmental tween, this mantra seemed to me an absurd but benign delusion, a mechanism for coping with the inevitable: hopeless old age (i.e. grandparenthood) and oblivion.  As a 38-year old woman, though, with an endless list of responsibilities and a perennial case of exhaustion, I took a different view.

For many people, at least in our particular corner of the Western world, a 40th birthday is a serious milestone, one that offers the possibility of reinvention. If we are very lucky, it is a moment when we have satisfied more than the basic requirements of survival; we are mated, housed, healthy, employed and sleeping through the night.  For the A-types, the self-improvers and the chronic malcontents among us, it’s the perfect time to ask:  What’s next?

I’d always wanted to be a fiction writer.  But I had some serious catching up to do.  I hadn’t written anything creative since high school.  No short stories, no poems, nothing.  A lawyer by training, as well as an oldest daughter by birth order, I took a cautious and incremental approach to personal transformation.  I wrote for three hours a week, on Sunday afternoons, about a subject that was familiar.  (The Hole in the Middle is a comic novel about a woman turning 40, with an endless list of responsibilities and a perennial case of exhaustion.  It is, of course, 100% fictional.)

As I write this, I realize that it’s been exactly five years since I took my first tentative steps as a writer by jotting down some ideas in a notebook.  This January, I’m getting regular missives from readers, who send me photos of my book in stores across the country and tell me that The Hole in the Middle was the highlight of their holiday reading.

Life may not begin at 40, but it’s an excellent time to consider a second (or third, or fourth) act.  Is there something you’ve always wanted to do?  Something you were scared to try, because you’d be devastated if you failed?  Take a deep breath and go for it.  Trust me: it’s way more satisfying than buying a convertible.

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