Keeping It In The Family

Admirable Intentions are Fine, But It's the Green that Counts

By Margo Candela
Published on LatinoLA: May 19, 2007

Keeping It In The Family

One of my greatest achievements and the biggest frustration of my life go hand in hand. I wrote and had a book published this year. It wasn't easy; I made a lot of mistakes and learned the hard way about the publishing business-something they don't teach you in school. At least not the schools I went to. And every day it continues to teach me about myself, my family and my community.

At times I doubted it would ever happen, there was no reason it should. I didn't graduate from a prestigious school or continue on my education with an expensive MFA in creative writing, I was no one's niece or ex-wife and I had no connections in the publishing world. At times, it was obvious I would be better off (mentally, emotionally and not to mention financially) giving up my goal to write a book and see it published and instead focus on a job that paid the bills. But I knew I could make it work, make it happen, it was just a matter of perfecting my manuscript, convincing the right agent and then editor, Underneath It All was a story other readers would enjoy.

When I finally got the call that Underneath It All would be published, I still had to face facts that my book advance (spread over the years I'd invested in writing the book, looking for the right agent and going through the submission process) roughly equaled what I could have made working part-time at a fast food place. But it happened. All those years of work, sleepless nights, the doubts and the hard decisions were worth it. A story I wrote about a woman who could be me or someone I grew up with would be printed into a real book and sold at bookstores for anyone to pick-up, buy, read and tell other people about.

As for my community, it has been a struggle to get the word out. My reasoning has been that since I'm from Northeast LA, my book takes place there, I still have strong ties to the area and plan to set future novels in the neighborhood, this is where I should focus grass roots efforts. I've reached out to local libraries, schools, newspapers and businesses in hopes of sharing my story (and, yes, selling my book) but it's mostly been a wasted effort on my part.

I've done talks for local libraries and the turnout has been disappointing, not just for me but for the librarians who work very hard to serve the community only to have the community not show up. One told me she's on the verge of eliminating book groups, guest authors and other related programs because it's so disheartening to see how little people seem to care even though she has tried to find authors and books that reflect the community she serves. Her experience pretty much mirrors mine.

I've offered to speak for free, deliver books myself, and do everything short of going door-to-door to let people know a local girl has published a book and could really use their support. But when it comes down to it, I have to ask myself why has it been so hard for me to get attention for my novel in the area where I grew up? The truth is no one in Northeast LA owes me a thing. Nothing. Nada.

By trying to convince people to buy my book, I'm asking them to invest in me so that my publisher and other publishers will see there is a market for books like mine. Why? Because they'll see it makes money and it all comes down to that. Trying to entertain, respectfully shed light on my culture and poke fun at the stereotypes that sometimes are all too true is fine, but it's the numbers that count. I wrote my book for my own reasons, but my publisher published it for one: to sell it. And now that's my job, too. My aim may be to give back to my community, but it doesn't make a difference to my book's Amazon.com ranking.

Still, I will continue to offer to speak at libraries, and I hope to participate in a big library event in the fall that will draw fellow Latina writers and, yes, the community out in force to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. I'm looking forward to visiting my junior high at the end of the month to talk to English classes and am honored to have been approached to speak at the Young Women's Health Conference. And I'll continue to commit my time and energy even if it takes me away from what I'm supposed to be doing, writing and promoting my books in places where people might actually buy a book.

And when my editor says they can't do this or won't change that, it's because I don't have the numbers behind me so I have to live with a cover image that doesn't suit my book or a marketing sentence on the back I am uncomfortable with. Sure, I wrote a book, it's been published, but, after everything, it's the selling part the counts the most.

I haven't let it all stop me from making new goals. As soon as I knew Underneath It All would be published, I said I wanted to see it translated into Spanish to honor my family and the fact that I grew up speaking Spanish with them. It's a great goal but one I realize won't happen unless people ask for it. And that's the one part of this wonderful and lucky adventure I can't control.

About Margo Candela:
Margo Candela was born and raised in Northeast Los Angeles. Her debut novel UNDERNEATH IT ALL was released this January 2007. Her second book, LIFE OVER EASY will be published in October 2007. For more information please visit www.MargoCandela.com.

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