Interview with Linda Pressman, winner of the 20th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards
By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo
Today we’re joined by Linda Pressman, author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie. After writing her memoir, a hilarious and heartbreaking account of being raised one of seven sisters by Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Illinois, Linda secured an agent but was unable to sell her story. Undeterred, she used CreateSpace to self-publish, worked on her platform, and sold over 4,000 copies before entering and winning the 20th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.
Linda Pressman is a freelance writer, speaker, blogger, editor and the author of Looking Up. She has worked as both the short story and blog editor for Poetica Magazine, and her freelance work has appeared in literary journals, in Brain, Child Magazine, in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and has been anthologized twice. She blogs at Bar Mitzvahzilla, one of the top 30 blogs on JBlog, and on Open Salon. The parent of two teenagers, she lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WOW: Tell us about the moment you learned Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie placed first in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Details, please!
Linda: I haven’t had great success winning contests so after I submitted the book to Writer’s Digest and a lot of time went by, I had stopped thinking about it. Then, on a Thursday at the beginning of November, I was heading out of my house when I noticed an email from Writer’s Digest titled, “Grand Prize Winner – Life Stories,” which was actually the category in which I entered Looking Up. I get a lot of emails from them so I was glad to have opened this one! It announced that I was the grand-prize winner of the 20th Annual WD Self-Published Book Awards.
WOW: How exciting, and well deserved! Looking Up is both a comic coming-of-age story and a tragic rendering of your parents’ experiences in the Holocaust. Part of the book’s power is your unsentimental descriptions of some pretty horrifying scenes. How did you manage to curb your own emotions so that the story could speak for itself?
Linda: I learned from my first writing professor, Lois Roma-Deeley, PhD, that less is more with powerful, or even excruciating, scenes. The reader’s mind must be allowed to do some of the work; the writer doesn’t have to do it all. In other words, write lightly when the emotions are heavy.
The voice I intended to convey through those sections was mine as a child when I was hearing my parents’ stories and not quite listening because they were so horrible that they weren’t quite listenable, so to speak. Raised in the U.S. in the optimistic 1960s, I was always waiting for a happy ending that didn’t come. Hopefully the reader can feel that type of holding of one’s breath that I always felt.
WOW: That definitely comes across. Your prize package included a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City in April. What did you take away from the conference you’d like to share with WOW! readers?
Linda: Regarding women writers, specifically, I found freelance writer and author Susan Shapiro particularly inspirational. She teaches at the New School in New York and assigns something she calls the “humiliation essay” to her students. Her statistics of turning her students into published writers are pretty astounding. To date, she indicated that approximately 52% of her students are published prior to finishing her class, with many receiving book contracts based on their initial pieces and where they appear.
She gave some good advice, some of which is (1) we all need editors; (2) start at the top when submitting your work; (3) tell your secrets as they will strike a common chord with readers; and (4) keep gratitude front and center; in other words, thank those who have helped you.
WOW: “Tell your secrets.” I like that. Okay, so tell us yours: what’s your advice to WOW! readers who are considering self-publishing?
Linda: Work on your writing, first and foremost. Nowadays with the technology and opportunities available to writers, it is very easy to become published but not as easy to publish well. Don’t get more excited about publishing than you are about writing.
Establish yourself as part of the conversation ahead of time. If you’re writing a book about yoga, become part of Goodreads discussion groups, LinkedIn groups, blogs, Facebook groups, etc., all devoted to yoga practitioners. This will give you relationships and people who are interested in what you have to say, as opposed to showing up post-publication with a book to sell and appearing to have the ulterior motive of marketing. You will end up the richer for it.
I joined many groups devoted to memoir writers, children of Survivors, people who had grown up in Chicago, and those who had attended the schools I had, and most of my involvement was out of genuine interest and created new or renewed friendships with people I had known. A group of people automatically interested in your topic or in you as a thoughtful, interesting commentator is a wonderful place to start when looking for
When you’re done, give the next person a helping hand up. There’s always room in the world for more writing.
WOW: I think we can all agree with that! What are you working on now?
Linda: I’m working on the sequel to Looking Up, which takes place after our family moves to Arizona. My dad becomes part Holocaust Survivor/part Arizona Cowboy, then dies suddenly, leaving our mother not only destitute (possibly the only Jewish family in Scottsdale on food stamps) but the queen of Phoenix Jewish Singles, circa 1975. Between her and some of the seven daughters it’s a little bit “Jewish Girls Gone Wild,” so to speak.
WOW: Sounds like your signature style of heartbreak and humor. I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for sharing with us, Linda, and congratulations.
Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is a writer in Tempe, Arizona. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama, SLAB Literary Magazine, Hospital Drive, The Portland Review, Babble, Phoenix New Times, and the Arizona Republic. For links to Elizabeth’s work, check out her website at http://www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com/.