Write the Damn Book Already

Ep 73: From Memoir to Fiction with Zibby Owens

January 31, 2024 Elizabeth Lyons
Write the Damn Book Already
Ep 73: From Memoir to Fiction with Zibby Owens
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Transitioning between genres can feel like learning a new dance with the same set of feet. In this episode of Write the Damn Book Already, Zibby Owens shares her experience shifting from memoir (Bookends, July 1, 2022, Little a) to fiction (Blank, March 1, 2024, Little a).

We discuss what it takes to draft a compelling "base layer" for a story. Meanwhile, as the current Goodreads controversy continues to unfold, we chat about the harsh realities of online ratings and the significance of author advocacy in the digital age. Learn how to navigate the murky waters of social media hijacking, and why fortifying a diverse online presence is more important than ever.

ABOUT ZIBBY OWENS
Zibby Owens is the creator and host of the award-winning, daily podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. Zibby is also the founder and CEO of Zibby Media, dubbed “the Zibby-verse” (L.A. Times). It includes publishing house Zibby Books, online magazine Zibby Mag, Zibby’s Book Club, retreats, classes, and events. She owns Zibby’s Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Santa Monica, CA. A regular contributor to “Good Morning America” and other outlets, she loves recommending books as “NYC’s Most Powerful Book-fluencer” (Vulture). 

Zibby is the author of Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature and children’s book Princess Charming, and editor of two anthologies, Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids: A Timeless Anthology and Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, Zibby currently lives in New York (with frequent visits to L.A.) with her husband, Kyle Owens of Morning Moon Productions, and her four children ages

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Write the Damn Book Already podcast. My name is Elizabeth Lyons. I'm a six-time author and book editor, and I help people write and publish powerful, thought-provoking, wildly entertaining books without any more overthinking, second guessing or overwhelm than absolutely necessary. Because, let's face it, some overthinking, second guessing and overwhelm is going to come with the territory. If you're anything like me, I believe that story and shared perspective are two of the most potent ways we connect with one another and that your story, perspective and insights are destined to become someone else's favorite resource or pastime. For more bookwriting and publishing tips and solutions, oh, and plenty of free and low-cost resources, visit PublishAProfitableBookcom and for recommendations of fabulous books. You've possibly never heard of bookwriting inspiration and the occasional meme so relatable. You'll wonder if it was created with you in mind. Follow me on Instagram at Elizabeth Lyons author. Hi there and welcome back.

Speaker 1:

I was so excited this week to have the opportunity once again to talk with Zibi Owens. She came on. She was probably one of my very first guests, honestly, on this podcast. She came on about I think it was about a year ago to talk about her memoir Bookends, and this time she came on to chat about her novel Blank, which comes out March 5th of 2024. One of the things I try to do on this podcast is ask questions that aren't being asked on all the other podcasts. Number one because I think that podcast guests get question fatigue like they're asked some of the same things understandably, by the way, I'm not judging that but over and over again and also because, being an author myself and also working with authors and talking to authors all day, every day, one of the ways that Zibi's experience kind of crosses over both is she's an author and she works with authors.

Speaker 1:

Obviously she runs Zibi Books. When I first talked to her a year or so ago, that had basically just launched Zibi Books, so it was fun to get her insights into the differences between, for her writing memoir and writing fiction, how she balances the art of being an author and being a business person. This incredible tour that she has coming up, that she's put together by herself, I think she's going to over 50 different cities or at least 50 different locations to speak about Blank and to meet people and to connect with readers and other writers. And, as always, I've put all of the links to everything Zibi, her novels and also the first episode that she was on on, write the Danbook already in the show notes so that you can reference any and all of it.

Speaker 1:

But now let's just hop right into the interview. So I don't know if this is a common question you get, but I'm curious. I might know the answer, or I might know a part of the answer, but I of course want to hear it from you why did you choose to publish with Little A instead of doing it through Zibi Books?

Speaker 2:

I am very loyal and Carmen at Little A published my memoir Bookends a memoir of love, lust and literature, and together we brainstormed and finalized the concept for this book, and I've been with her from the beginning, so it was a no-brainer for me.

Speaker 1:

And even with Bookends. Did you ever consider doing it? It really kind of caught like it was a cross timeline right with the beginning of Zibi Books.

Speaker 2:

It was. We were not in a position to publish.

Speaker 1:

Also.

Speaker 2:

I like having it be a little bit separate and I like feeling valued for my work that I'm not. It almost feels like self-publishing, even though I have a real publishing house. Like nobody else thinks it's good. I need the validation.

Speaker 1:

I love that you say that, because I was wondering. This morning I was thinking about it again and I thought I wonder if there's an element of like separation of church and state, for lack of a better, where you just want to feel like my books are over there and then the Zibi Books, my authors books are over here and you don't maybe feel like there's a question as to where time is going and where efforts are going. Does that play into it a little bit too? It does.

Speaker 2:

And I will say, because the publishing house is me and I am still me writing, regardless of who publishes it. We're all sort of invested in the success of Blanked as well, but at least I'm not monopolizing resources. And yeah, church and state, church and state, church and state, yeah. I don't want to see the underbelly of how my own book is made.

Speaker 1:

Oh, that's interesting. Okay, yeah, well, I mean I'm experiencing that right now, actually working on my first novel. I wanted to ask you, when you went from memoir to fiction, how did that? How did that go right? What surprised you? What challenged you about those two genres? What did you not expect?

Speaker 2:

Well, I had written fiction before. It just had not sold right. So I've always kind of wavered between those two genres. But this was different in that I had a deadline and deliverables and a concept that had been signed off on. So what I was not expecting was how the circumstances that I wrote under had to be so different.

Speaker 2:

When I write Nonfiction, when I write memoir, when I write essays like I do this in the doctor's office waiting for my kids, I'll do it anywhere. You know, anywhere is fine and I can jump right in and out. But with fiction, for whatever reason, like I need a big period of time and I need like total quiet. And I get neither of those things very often Right, and I get really tired, like I can write really forever, but I like after like an hour or two I get so like depleted. I have to like close my eyes for a second and then I'm like what is wrong with me that even if I'm writing on an airplane which which is you know, which meets the criteria, especially long flights, but I don't know, I wasn't Prepared for that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I find that really also interesting because I always thought, as someone who's written mostly, well, all nonfiction I thought, oh, fiction will be and see the air quotes, but easy, right, because you get to kind of make up as much of it as you want, if not all of it. And so I thought, god, this will just be this super creative space in which I get to live. But I'm not finding that to be the case for me and I I'm I'm wondering about you. I feel that the overthinking is in overdrive. Hmm, yeah, that at all, or like what, what do you feel like made you feel more tired?

Speaker 2:

I don't know, felt like it, like an exorcism. You know like I mean, it's one thing to be an Observe, you know like observe things right, right, when I write from life, it's it's like being one of the guys on the street does caricatures, right, you see a person in front of you and then you draw it. And then all of a sudden, you tell the caricatures, okay, now draw nobody. You're like what right, draw someone you might imagine, but who isn't real. Okay, well, I don't know, I wasn't used to doing that, so, so it's fun. But you can't like interpret things and find the funny spin on them. You have to like create them.

Speaker 1:

So exactly, and you have to create dimensions that you don't even think you have to create. And this is probably the first time that I'm really understanding the concept that we, as authors, have the idea in our heads of who the character is, but we don't always spell it out well on the page, and so I mean that's of course, where editing comes in, and all of that. Yes, um, as an author and a business person, how do you Find or probably it's more, create balance and I don't mean balance in the sense, because I don't even believe balance exists at this point, like it's ever fleeting, I feel, in the way that we talk about work, life, balance or balance between these things. But how do you for lack of a better word balance being a business person and being an author and not letting? For me, it's the author side that always slips. You know, I will be the first to talk about my clients books, or anybody else's books, my friends' books, before I'll talk about my own book. What's your experience with that?

Speaker 2:

Yes, I could fill every day with business stuff and never make the time to write very easily. In fact, I have been doing that for the last few months. I do think it's really important, if you're an author, to also be a business person, because you have to get out there and sell your book now more than ever. I mean the author as brand, as you well know and preach, and everything you know, is paramount. You have to do that and to the extent that you can market and find an audience for your book, so that's better. I honestly have to create really discreet times and I'm wondering when on earth I'm going to do this, because I'm about to start writing another book and I'm like how am I going to do this? Because I definitely need a couple days.

Speaker 2:

So when I had to finish blank, what happened was I wrote it and then I was like okay, I'm done, but it was only 30,000 words. And I was like well, here it is. And my editor was like what are you talking about? And I was like no, no, no, I got to the end of my story, so I don't really want to write anymore. Like I wrote about what interested me and I had to go back then and like layer on a ton of stuff. So it got to the point where I had 20,000 more words to write and like a weekend. So I took a day off of work. I put it in quotes because I don't know, I'm always working. It's like what, what anyway? So I said, and I even told people on Instagram, not like anybody cared, but I was like the next three days I'm finishing this novel, I'm not going to check Instagram, not checking email, I'm holding myself up and just getting this done and I did, but I don't know.

Speaker 2:

I need that separation, so I hope I can find it again.

Speaker 1:

Right, and I think it's when you were writing blank or even bookends. I don't know if the process changed at all I mean your life changed but I think ever that's something that I don't think people talk about a lot is that authors' lives change between books, true, so the process that worked for you, you know, for one book, like I was talking the other day to Jessica Saunders, who's debut Love Me right.

Speaker 2:

I love her. I love her. She's amazing, she's a doll, she really is.

Speaker 1:

I think when she was writing Love Me, it was during the pandemic she had, you know, as a practicing attorney. She wasn't practicing in quite the same way, right, she had more disposable time or time that she could allot to that, but now, working on her next book, it's a totally different ballgame. Yes, so how did things shift for you, or did they, in terms of carving out that time? Are you somebody who needs to sit down for an hour? Do you need to carve out an hour or two? Can you do it in 10-minute increments?

Speaker 2:

No, I need a lot. I need, honestly, I need like half a day, really Cause, and then I always forget who are these characters Like. When was the last time I even wrote this thing? Like I have to go back. Yeah, I have a terrible memory. I feel like I have to go back and read blank again.

Speaker 1:

Just to remember. I love that you're saying that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and so I have. And then sometimes I'm like reading it again to remind myself where I was, and I have to like write little notes like oh no, I forgot, I made this change in the last time. So the first part of the day is just like rereading it all and remembering, and then I can jump into it.

Speaker 2:

I guess, if I did it every day and this was my main thing it would, be on that front, easier because I could just pick up where I left off, as opposed to like letting a month go by and being like where was I? So yeah, ideally I would have you know nine to one every day, really no other. But that's not my life, that's just not my life.

Speaker 1:

I sometimes wonder if that it's not my life either, but if it could be my life, I wonder how sustainable that would be. I don't know. Do you feel like you're somebody who could? If you could write for four hours a day?

Speaker 2:

I could write for like 11 hours straight. Really I wrote. I flew home one time from Greece and I like wrote the whole time, the whole time, and like somebody in the aisle was like how did you do that? But I could really do it. I can write for a long time In fact. I mean, if I just had like two weeks, I could get a draft, even if it's not a full draft. I could like get to the end of the story and then filling in is much easier for me. Filling in and like writing scenes that I don't need quiet or peace or whatever, that is fine, I can do that, but it's getting the whole story out. I don't know, but maybe I'm wrong, maybe it was just because I was teaching myself and now this time will be easier and it'll get progressively easier.

Speaker 1:

But that's kind of what I mean by like, if things shift, yeah Right. And I think sometimes we think, oh, this next one will be easier, because now I've done one, but then there's some hiccup that doesn't make it easier, like you're trying to challenge yourself to do. When I was talking to Sarah Lynn Brock light of the fire, which is coming out soon too she was like I challenge. I thought this was so interesting. She challenges herself with each book to do something different. So to add in, like a thriller component or I don't know, something that's different, that's, I don't want to say, forces her to elevate her game. But she just wants to be right.

Speaker 1:

She wants to become a better writer by doing that, and so if that is one's approach, then inevitably the next book you're gonna kind of be like oh god, this is right. Yeah, are you with blank? Were you a plotter, a pancer? Did you know how it ended when you started those first 30,000?

Speaker 2:

I got to when I had originally intended. But then when I went back I changed a lot. Really, yeah, I changed a lot and I changed entire characters and I I added like full-on subplots and yeah, it was like I had only done the base layer and then it was like the next level came after that.

Speaker 1:

So for you, then, is the base layer, the air quote, hardest. Yes, yes, okay. The base layer is the hardest and I mean, what do you just keep? I love to ask people like so what do you? And I think I'm asking selfishly because I'm still trying to figure out my base layer and I'm like I'm gonna be 97 when I think I've figured out the base layer. It's getting to that point. How, like at what point do you say this is the base layer? I don't know.

Speaker 2:

I just like got to the end, okay, I knew where I was going. You did.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I knew where I was going and, yeah, I don't know where I'm going. Maybe that's my problem. Can we chat about this Goodreads fiasco? Yes, okay, so it's such an interesting you know, and I want to try to turn it sort of positively so people can go back and they can read with that, so we don't have to rehash the whole thing. They can go read all your posts and your sub stack to get the background of what happened and why it was so disturbing. And it certainly wasn't the first and sadly, I mean I wish I could say I thought it would be the last, but probably not.

Speaker 1:

What is your?

Speaker 1:

What are your thoughts of having experienced something?

Speaker 1:

You know Goodreads is a very important platform, especially for fiction authors, and there are a lot of people in the industry now Suggesting that it's not as important as it once was. I don't know what's your, what's your professional opinion on it in terms of its importance, like when you watch your own authors needing to get reviews there and Readers getting suggestions there and things like that and how has that switched a little bit in terms of, maybe, how you're Encouraging authors to advocate for themselves so that they don't get caught up in this mess? I mean, this mess is like I got an email from you yesterday that said I'm shutting down this email because, as you mentioned right, someone went out and subscribed you to thousands of things and now and your email is just littered so as though you have time to deal with that- oh my gosh, I had to spend another three hours on it yesterday changing passwords with my whole team, because my email is linked to so many of my business things, because it's just ronesore organically and you know it's like who has the staples account.

Speaker 2:

I mean it's been a nightmare. It's been a nightmare. But basically, yeah, the crux of it is I went on Goodreads for blank and this is we're talking now, still in January. It comes out March 1st and when I looked at the rating, you can then click and you see how many five stars, four stars, three stars, two and one and I had a one star rating, kind of dragging down the average, and I wanted to see who it was.

Speaker 2:

And it was someone who accused my book of you know, I'm Jewish and accused of being, you know, zionist, racist, blah, blah, blah, blah, and which is, of course, not true, and I was like, well, that's not fair. You know, I can't have like somebody who's just anti-Semitic bringing down my ranking and I kind of thought about it for a day or two and then I was like, well, maybe I can do something about it. Like why not speak up Because I can't be the only person this has happened to? So I spoke up about it and I wrote a whole sub stack and so many people came to my aid and helped me report the person that not only did they take the thing down by the end of the day which I felt like was a massive victory because I didn't think they would ever take that person's profile down, but now my ranking is up, which was not even the point.

Speaker 2:

I mean, it was the point in that it shouldn't be artificially pulled down, but now I've gotten more people to actually even do it. So I think, from a publishing perspective, I think people need to look at the numbers with a great deal of caution. If you see all positive reviews and start reading through them and they all are legitimately positive, that's great. I think that means a lot. And if they're all negative or there's a big trend, I think that means a lot. But I think you know, on the margins, it's important to dig a little bit deeper than the number itself and see what the ratings are. Is it a smattering of all the different? You know who are the people rating. So if you take the time, if you really care about a book and why you're even checking that ranking, I think you have to dig a little deeper.

Speaker 1:

And even when it comes to social media, because so many people are having their social media hijacked, and it's so. It truly is so easy to I mean, I don't want to give it. I don't think I'm giving out any ideas here that anybody hasn't already had. Who's trying to do something, not in a great way, but you just have to screenshot someone's posts and copy their captions and then you replicate. You know their entire feed and it can be very challenging.

Speaker 1:

For, I mean, I remember last year when you consolidated everything. Remember when everything I say, remember like you're, like no, I don't remember that when everything went from into Zibby media, essentially like you. Just, it was, there were all these different things and it was growing organically and you didn't necessarily know what. So you just created new things and then you consolidated everything. But when someone, when one person, takes the time to hijack something, whether it's your rating or your social media, it really not only is it just a pain in the ass, but it can really, I think, cause some people, especially authors who don't have a big team. It's like, how do I even recover from this? Yeah, right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's, it's quite debilitating. I mean, I've literally spent hours, hours and hours. My team only came into play when I had to go through not only all my personal stuff but then also my business stuff, which is right. Shame on me for having, you know, melding those to begin with, but it's, it's, it's just happened that way, but yeah it's. There are so many things people who want to do bad things can do and do do, so I get spam on many things I post almost every day just delete it all, but it's like I don't know.

Speaker 2:

I mean, you know they're bad people out there right, so for blank you have this huge tour.

Speaker 1:

I feel like it's getting bigger by the day.

Speaker 2:

I just getting bigger by the day I have decided it's done. I mean until somebody asks me to go somewhere else. No, I'm kidding, but I am not gonna add more things. I had my kids draw all the stops. I saw that this morning and I and I'm not adding anymore, at least not not going any more places for the next six months these, these will be my, I hope. Yeah, I mean I can't. We said more events, but you know in places where I am, but I don't want to take any more trips than I have planned, if I can avoid it.

Speaker 2:

But yeah, I'm going to like 20 states. It's a lot it's a lot.

Speaker 1:

It might be too much that way, though. Did you say I wanted you, or did it just like everything else? Did it just kind of take on a life of its own?

Speaker 2:

It just took on a life of its own. Yeah, I'm not even going to some of the places that I wanted to go. You know, like there's really.

Speaker 2:

There's this bookshop I wanted to see in like Missouri, and I'm not gonna get a chance to go there. It's fine, like I'll, you know I'll, I'll get there eventually, but I'm right, I there a lot more. I mean I want to go everywhere. Right now I don't have Portland in Seattle on there, and I really want to go back to those places or go to those places. But I don't know. I'm excited to travel and celebrate and meet readers. I mean, this is more than just my book, this is my whole thing. My whole branded company is what I'm, you know, dragging around the United States. It's not just for the book, but I'm now, and I'm just excited, I'm excited to meet people and Meet readers where they are and spread the word all over, and, and my book is just a mechanism for getting there right.

Speaker 1:

So when you're doing all these sorts of things, you're melding it all together.

Speaker 1:

Essentially yeah, it's just like what it's I mean and I don't want to use the cliche phrase like what is it? Well, I phrase kill two birds with one stone is so violent. It really is. It really is like who came up with that? But cuz I don't have anything better yet this morning, yeah, I mean it. I think that when authors from a business standpoint can think that way so, for example, I'm already in, let's say, you're going somewhere for something that wasn't business related, right, you're already there. So what might you be able to do there, whether it's with a library or an indie bookstore or just in a coffee shop? Yes, you have some interesting venues.

Speaker 2:

it's not all bookstores it's not all bookstores yeah, I love how I'm going to Jenny's ice cream, because that's where.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, okay. So that is bringing me back because I went to Ohio State and so Jenny's ice cream that was Big and when I first saw them in the grocery store was like that can't be the same, jenny, but it was the same logo. I was like that has to be the same and it was just so cool that they went from. At the time they were so little and not anymore, but my gosh that's amazing. Yeah, okay, last question. This is terrifying to ask you. What are you reading now?

Speaker 2:

oh, I'm reading other people's words friendship loss and the conversations that never end, by Lisa soap S O E P. And it is so good and it's not that long. It's about two losses of friends she had at different points in her life in different ways, and how conversation itself In different ways, has gotten her through it. It's very interesting. Yeah, it's good.

Speaker 1:

I thought this was a really fun question to ask at the end of every interview and now it's like a blessing and a curse, because the pile is as you can imagine when we just discover new books and new authors every day. Yes, you know. And do people ever like? Do people ever say to you I said that was the last question, this is the last question. Do people ever say do you have you heard of Fill in the blank? And you're like no, I have not heard of that yeah, all the time.

Speaker 2:

It's incredible. I know I'm like I thought I was trying to stay up on everything. I feel like such a failure. This is so embarrassing. Yes.

Speaker 1:

But it's just the way it is, and yet it gives you just one more thing to dive into right.

Speaker 2:

I don't know if I haven't heard of it. I'm like I don't know. I mean, we can all only read, so much, only so many hours in the day.

Speaker 1:

well, thank you, I'll see you soon because you'll be out this way, thank you, can't wait, I can't wait.

Speaker 1:

Thank you as always, and I'll link everything below. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you enjoyed this episode, this is your friendly reminder to follow or subscribe, leave a quick review and share it with someone you know has a great story or message, but isn't sure what to do next. Also, remember to check out publish a profitable book dot com for book writing resources and tips and to see all the ways we can work together to get your book out into the world. Again, thanks so much for listening and I'll talk with you again soon.

Author and Business Person Finding Balance
Goodreads, Book Ratings, and Author Advocacy