One thing that has been on my mind lately has been finding ways in which I can promote my writing so that I reach my target audience more effectively. It is no easy feat. Despite the preponderance of articles and blogs I have read online, there is no straightforward path for literary success. The only one common characteristics I have discerned thus far is that most successful authors have been persistent and hardworking. Yet there are of course a few outliers who have “made it big” with their first book. However, these authors are the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless there are some very intriguing success stories in particular in the biography/memoir genre.
One striking example that I came across this week is from Tara Westover. Her autobiography, Educated: A Memoir, recounts the remarkable story of how she overcame a racist, survivalist Mormon upbringing in Idaho in order to go to college and educate herself. Tara released Educated, her first book, in February, 2018, and it has since then won several accolades, including a 2019 Alex Award and a Goodreads Choice Award, to name a few. Most impressive of all is that Educated has been on the New York Times best sellers list for 2 years straight and has sold over 4 million copies worldwide! This is an astounding feat for a first time author, who emerged out of obscurity.
Two questions immediately popped into my head after learning about Tara Westover’s success with her memoir. i) How did she do it? And, ii) what can a self-published author, like myself, learn from her journey? So I searched further online and came across an interview with Tara in Vanity Fair Magazine in which she shared a few insights into her writing quest.
Like many beginning writers Tara struggled at first and received some brutal feedback (I can definitely relate to this!). However, she persevered and honed her craft by reading a lot of short stories and listening to the New Yorker fiction podcast which taught her the basic mechanics of writing. By doing this she learned how to better structure the chapters in her memoir. In particular she focused on making each chapter read like a short story, which is an intriguing approach which I had not previously considered. Interestingly, I did shorten the chapters in my memoir, Walking in Footsteps of Promise, and adapt the chapter endings to introduce more cliffhangers, upon receiving feedback from two of my beta testers. In effect this made the chapters more short-story-like, yet still linked them together by a common thread.
Yet still the answers to my questions remained elusive after reading this article. Most of what I gleaned from the interview and others like it on CNN and the Haaretz newspaper, did not tell the story of how Tara Westover made it from obscurity to renown. Instead the focus is often on the bizarreness of her upbringing and the incredulity of how she overcame seemingly insurmountable adversity to educate herself. Perhaps that is a profound insight in of itself. Her story is so unique that it engenders curiosity or one might even argue voyeurism due to it’s shock factor. It is not the standard “overcoming the odds” tale. This is certainly one of many ingredients in Tara’s recipe for success. However, it is without a doubt not the only reason she “made it.” There is surely more to it than that.
As I dug deeper I learned from a Goodreads interview with Tara that Educated resonated deeply with people for other reasons. Namely, the two central and very relatable themes in her memoir: i) self-invention and self-creation and ii) family and obligation. As Tara put it, “I guess it’s a principle of storytelling that the universal is best explored through the specific.” One of the keys to Tara’s success is how relatable her story is to the average Jane/Joe on the street. Everyone has an upbringing and an education. In hindsight this is the key in marketing any book.
While Tara Westover’s story is truly an inspiration for me, I realize my literary path is following it’s own unique, meandering course. Inspired by Tara, I have decided to put more energy into slowly but surely building my reader base and platform, by focusing on my author website blog and literary network on Goodreads. I believe success will come with dedication and consistency over time. With patience and diligence will come success. So if you are an avid reader and Goodreads member please feel free to follow me and to consider adding my books to your reading list. Please also feel free to leave a comment below on this blogpost or about Tara Westover’s biography Educated. I am happy to hear from you.