Huzzah! The end is near(ish).
This semester is, indeed, my final one in the program, and it is still difficult for me to accept that my time at Bay Path is coming to an end. There were moments when I worried that I would never finish.
I started on this journey to an MFA at the beginning of the pandemic, which at the time seemed as though it was going to be a temporary thing that required temporary changes to my and my family’s life. Boy, was that assumption wrong! It has been a rollercoaster of a time professionally and personally as I’ve made my way through the program, and I’m so very grateful that I have made it through and that things have finally evened out a bit.
The thesis that I am finishing with now is not the thesis I had envisioned when I started. (This is likely true of nearly everyone, I’m aware.) I had hoped that the version I submitted at the end of the program would be one I could then use as a book. That was The Plan. Alas, that is not the path that I find myself on, and it is my dearest hope that no one outside of my cohort and professors ever read the things that I shared in my thesis.
That being said, I also don’t think that I could’ve written any other thesis than the one I did. Though my work here has not been work that I would feel comfortable seeing the light of day via publishing, I do think it was essential, unavoidable work. I had these stories inside of me and if I didn’t get them out, they would’ve stuck around haunting me for who knows how long, perhaps keeping me from the business of ever writing the things I really do want to be writing. Now, with these pieces of my story outside of myself, I feel more able than ever to begin writing the kinds of things I actually would love to make their way out into the world.
I cannot reference the conclusion of my internship as I have asked to continue in it for a while so I can see some projects through. However, I can say that it has been a blessing and that my time working for Bookshop has made me feel hopeful about the future, as well as reaffirming the love and admiration I felt for the company prior to my joining up in my small way.
And the completion of my time here at Bay Path means I can get started on the plans I’ve laid out in my Writer’s Contract. For my contract, I developed different goals for each of the following three years that nevertheless were connected.
The first year post-MFA’s goals are as follows: I want to publish a book of essays, launch and maintain a weekly Substack, grow to over 200K followers on social media, and continue working for the magazines and websites I already have relationships with. The book of essays is the major work for this year. I would like it to be fifteen essays and plan to publish it myself, likely using IngramSpark.
Year two’s goals expand on the prior year’s goals. My major work for this year will hopefully be a fiction novel of more lighthearted fare than my other works, possibly something genre. My second year out I hope to rediscover the joy in writing. In addition to my novel, I hope to continue growing my Substack and to start attending more in-person events. As for social media, I hope to grow to over 300k during this year and expand my presence on video platforms. I am determined to make short-form videos my jam! I would also love to broaden the number of magazines and websites I write for during this year.
Finally, the third year after my MFA is the one in which I hope the real magic will happen. I would like this to be the year that I write a major work that is capital G “Great.” While I plan on releasing my first two books post-program myself because I think it makes the most sense for me, this particular book I would love to see accepted by a traditional publisher. (I’d love it to be WVU Press, as I went there as an undergrad and have been really impressed by the things they have been putting out of late.) During this time, I’d like to expand into audio, as well. A separate thesis idea I had would make a great podcast, and I think I’d enjoy writing for that form. Finally, I hope to make it to half a million followers by the end of this year. A girl can dream! 😉
This prompt has been giving me anxiety ever since I first saw it as a future blog we would be writing, and I’ve struggled to respond to it honestly.
I haven’t had any interactions with writers during my internship. If you count my relationship with Kayla who is in charge of some of the social media posts and writes the majority of them and Elle who is in charge of marketing emails, then I suppose those would be my main interactions, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of writing we’re meaning here. Content and marketing writing is invaluable, and a lot of work goes into crafting the emails and tweets that they create, but that’s not the writing we’ve worked on in my time at Bay Path, and the emails and tweets I know about not because I have had anything to do with them but have seen them myself as a Bookshop affiliate and customer.
Truthfully, it’s difficult to see from my vantage point where the book writer would fit into Bookshop since it is more of a marketplace for other bookstores to be connected than a place where authors would directly interact. Obviously, authors are responsible for writing the books that are being sold and without them, Bookshop wouldn’t exist, and therefore writers play an essential part in the need for a place like this.
Writers could potentially sign up to be an affiliate for Bookshop and then create their own Bookshop lists that they could then curate and share with their readers and followers. This might be a way to strengthen connections with readers as well as earn a bit of money since we know authors often are scraping together what funds they can to allow them to go on writing. They might also participate in marketing with Bookshop through its online presence, but since it isn’t a physical bookstore, it isn’t as though authors can host readings and things in it.
So much of my work has been curating book lists and researching content creators, and I suppose these things have had an indirect effect on my work in that researching books to put on these lists has added to my TBR list (because it wasn’t long enough already 😉) and that gives me a better idea of what is out there already and where my work might fit in. The content creator side has shown me how authors might interact with creators to help get more attention for their books.
Really, though, I feel like all these things are a bit of a reach. “The writer” doesn’t really feel present in this situation. Much that I’ve learned has been interesting and is a bigger part of the whole that is publishing, and of course I need to understand how that works as a writer. To say that my writing itself has been affected, though, or that my approach to writing has been would just be dishonest. Tara the human has learned a lot that is of value, particularly in my work running social media, but Tara the writer has been off elsewhere kicking around.
A couple of different things stand out as surprising in my internship thus far. The majority of my work so far has been coming up with book list themes and then choosing the books that will go onto the lists, so my surprises deal with that process.
The themes for the lists I come up with without any real inspiration other than whatever is bouncing around the inside of my head. However, there is – naturally – no way that I personally could read or could have read all of the books on these potential lists, as the themes range far and wide as far as genre or topics go so that there are options that can appeal to every type of reader. For example, I don’t read horror, but one of the lists I put together this week was “Horror Books by BIPOC Authors You Should Know About.” For me to be able to put together a quality list, I have to do a lot of research into what books could potentially qualify for a spot on that list that have received a lot of attention and praise.
To do this, I Google the list title I have come up with and see what lists with similar themes from other publications come up. I then write down all of the titles on maybe the first to six lists in one giant master list, making an ‘X’ by any that appear more than once. The ones that are mentioned more than once – and ones that I think are particularly appropriate or just find appealing myself – I write down and check out as potential options for the list.
What has surprised me most – which is really silly in retrospect – is how widely the titles on the lists vary! Of course, I know intellectually that there are an incredible number of books put out each year, but there will be a hundred different books on the list that I compile of notable publications or reviewers who feel you ABSOLUTELY MUST READ this book. It’s really been kind of reassuring, in a strange way. Like, if there are that many books that people feel are must-reads each year, the chances that you could write something that might one day make it onto those lists are higher than I think I would’ve believed beforehand.
Another thing that surprised me is how few click-throughs are received on these lists that I write. I don’t mean only mine but on these kinds of lists in general. For example, the month before my lists were ever used, the highest click rate on a list was 89. For a company as big and popular as Bookshop to only receive 89 clicks on a list they put out shocked me, and like with the previous surprise, it also encouraged me. Naturally, the company wants higher click rates – anyone sending out an email with the intent to sell something would – so it isn’t as though they want to let that number stay there. Still, though, it did surprise me and make me feel a little more hope about what I might expect in a situation like that.
There are so many things I am enjoying about my placement with Bookshop it is difficult to choose a favorite among them! One of the best parts of the experience so far, though, is how fun in nature the work is.
When I was assigned to Bookshop, I was prepared to do anything that was asked of me, though I was very nervous that I might not understand certain things because I’d never been a part of such an impressive organization. The first meeting when my first set of tasks was given to me, however, I practically vibrated with excitement over them. Though I could see down the line when we got to parts of the process I was unfamiliar with that it would become more difficult, I was so relieved and overjoyed by my initial assignments. These included coming up with curated lists for Bookshop, developing a strategy for the Bookshop Facebook page, and researching content creators/influencers on social media who might be good fits for Bookshop’s purposes.
The curated lists are shoppable themed lists that Bookshop can share with potential customers. Examples of these might be “Historical Romances Not Set in England” or “Cozy Fantasy Books to Snuggle Up With This Season.” For each list, I have to come up with a theme that one of those Bookshop employees who oversee me can then approve or nix. If the list is approved, I have to find a minimum of seven books that fit the theme and can be purchased through Bookshop. This is fun, of course, because I love books and reading but can also be challenging as it’s necessary to create a nice mix of books and I cannot possibly have read all of the ones that I would like to add to the lists, so I have to do a good bit of research to ensure they are of high quality and don’t have problematic issues or authors that might cause a customer to think poorly of Bookshop.
Developing a strategy for Bookshop’s Facebook page is also very fun for me, as running a Facebook page is how I make the majority of my income and I feel very confident making suggestions. It’s so nice to feel like I have something real to offer there!
Finally, researching content creators and influencers across social media is also relatively painless and even enjoyable work. It can be a bit of a slog looking for new people to feature as there are already so many on Bookshop’s list of contacts, but it’s difficult to complain about having to scroll through Instagram or TikTok for the sake of “work.”
In addition to having generally enjoyable work to do, the entire vibe of the company as I’ve experienced it through the meetings I’ve attended has been such an incredibly pleasant and inviting one. Every single person that I have interacted with has been welcoming and encouraging, and though I am mostly in the background of meetings, I admire the way that the employees communicate with each other. They have a wonderful energy and there is usually a lot of laughter in whatever meeting I might find myself in. What a joy!
As soon as I heard the word “Bookshop” while Kate and I were discussing potential internship placements for me, I knew that was where I wanted to be. Bookshop.org launched just before the pandemic started in January 2020. Its mission was to provide support for indie bookstores, giving them some collective standing against the behemoth that is Amazon, while enabling readers shopping online to easily access their favorite local (or far away) bookstore.
The process is simple for customers. First, you choose the store you would like your purchase to be carried out through. Just as you would with any other online book retailer, you purchase whatever books you like. The purchase directly benefits the bookstore you have chosen, as well as other bookstores, as Bookshop divides gives bookstores not only money from purchases directly from them but also from their network-wide profit pool (made up of over 1,600 stores and counting!).
Being a very online individual, particularly in the online reading and writing communities, I became familiar with Bookshop toward the beginning of the pandemic. I began offering gift cards for Bookshop when I would run contests on my accounts, as well as using it personally. Eventually, I became an affiliate for them, a program where you create your own “shop” which people can visit and shop through while you can earn money from their purchases.
Though I was familiar with Bookshop as an entity and had a teensy bit of insider knowledge, I was very anxious about starting my internship with them as I have so much regard for their mission and am so far from their presence and life in NYC where they are based. I am always a little nervous about introducing myself as a rural West Virginian to people from big cities, especially ones that I have never visited and that are as irrefutably impressive and important in the publishing world as New York.
After my original contact at Bookshop passed me on to the marketing and social media team that I would be working with, I began to feel more at ease. For one thing, the first name I was given was that of the person who runs their affiliate program and who I frequently receive general emails from about updates to the program and whatnot. Elle is in charge of that and the marketing side, and while I was happy to see a familiar name, I still felt a little anxious about what responsibilities I might be tasked with on that side of things.
After studying their social media presence on different platforms, though, I was relieved to see that I might actually have something to offer them. While they have a strong Instagram presence and a growing TikTok one, their Facebook page was rather lackluster with a following on there that is a fraction of mine, and I saw several things that I could do immediately to help broaden its appeal and increase its impact. Social media management is a strength of mine and as soon as we began talking about what I might do, everything started to come together, and I had the beautiful thought that I might actually be able to make a difference at this wonderful company.