Reading Randomly, Envy, and Paying for PR

You can’t live in the SF Bay Area for fifteen years without learning to use phrases like “optimizing my workflow.” It’s just something I’ve learned to live with.

Anyway I finally figured out how to publish directly from my Obsidian app to my WordPress site, so I don’t need to go through that fiddly copy / past / convert to HTML step. Of course this took me two hours, so it’s hard to say if I’ve saved any time. I also learned how to use the Templater plug-in, which lets me write code that’ll move my notes around and such, a la the following screenshot of the blog post template.

I continue to be surprised by how dense and difficult windows / android / open-source software like Obsidian tends to be. Each environment adds just the tiniest bit of resistance, and all the resistance multiplies together, so even if each one is only 90 percent as efficient as the Apple version, using them all together gives you substantially degraded performance. The only switch I’ve made that is unambiguously better is using a fancy Chinese e-reader + an open source e-reader app (KOReader). It takes some effort to convert all my books to a non-proprietary / unlocked format, but it’s worth it, because it’s very difficult to navigate the onboard Kindle software–it’s very hard to find and sort books.

Lately I’ve been using the ‘random book’ feature on my e-reader, and it’s given me some fun new books. God knows when I purchased some of these books, but I recently read:

A memoir by a Black trans activist and former drag queen, I Have Always Been Me by Precious Brady-Davis. I knew that at some point in the last ten years a significant number of drag queens transitioned, but I don’t really know much about that story. Davis’s story is also atypical in that she was in and out of foster care and was often one step away from the street (purchased Jan 2021)

Letters To His Neighbor by Marcel Proust (trans. Lydia Davis), these are a set of exquisitely pained letters than Marcel wrote to his upstairs neighbor, a dentist and his American wife, asking them to please make less noise. Marcel, it has to be said, is clearly in the wrong here–he sleeps all day and works all night, so he’s really asking them to not make any noise during the day. But the tone and the archness and the good humor are delicious. Lydia Davis calls the collection a novel in miniature. It’s really not, but it’s definitely fun, if you’re a Proust fan (purchased Jan 2023).

I had ordered these flowers for you and I am in despair that they are coming on a day when against all expectation I feel so ill that I would like to ask you for silence tomorrow Saturday. Yet as this request is in no way conjoined with the flowers, causing them to lose all their fragrance as disinterested mark of respect and to bristle with nasty thorns

Shelley: Pocket Poems – I really like these collections from Knopf’s Everyman Library. Someday I intend to do a series of posts about the best reprint collections. These books are tiny and exquisitely laid out, with no more than 200 pages of poems. I haven’t read much of old Percy Bysshe before, except for “Ozymandias”, but reading his work, I realized, wow, I love Romanticism. I like how it exalts the individual, and I like the level of outrage and moral clarity (purchased March 2021).


When passion’s trance is overpast,
If tenderness and truth could last
Or live, whilst all wild feelings keep
Some mortal slumber, dark and deep,
I should not weep, I should not weep!

I list the purchase dates for each book just because the information automatically comes up when I look them up on Amazon. I’m not the kind of person who manages their TBR / unread books pile. I impulse buy books all the time, and I figure the moment for reading them will come eventually. In the case of the first two books I literally have no memory of even buying them. Since the memoir was published by Topple, an Amazon imprint, I think that I probably got it for free as part of a promotion. And the Lydia Davis book must have been on sale. The Shelley I probably purchased when I was buying a whole bunch of other pocket poets volumes. I first got all the ones that were available in ebook, and then I started buying the paper-only titles too.

My own writing is okay. I’ve been revising my literary book. It’s happening. Lately I’ve been feeling more envy than usual. I thought I’d whipped that demon, but sadly it’s not to be. A friend was talking about R.F. Kuang recently, who is apparently very wonderful, and who I know is a good writer (I read her first book), and I was like, I can’t read Babel because of the terrible envy. Kuang is only 26 (I’m 37).

Examining the envy, I realized, oh yes, this is book-launch craziness. I have a publication date for Just Happy To Be Here, my next YA novel. It’s coming out on Jan 2, 2024. My literary novel is coming out six months later, in June. And I have expectations! I won’t be a huge hit, obviously, but I’ve hired a private PR person, Tanya Farrell at Wunderkind PR, to promote the YA, precisely because I think it’s a good book, and with all the interest in trans teens, it has some built-in publicity hooks.

Incidentally, I’m being open about hiring a private PR person, simply because this is something a lot of writers do, with varying degrees of success. It’s quite expensive, usually between $15k and $20k (so, most of the advance for the book), but one hopes it’ll pay for itself in higher advances later on.

As far as I can tell, the point in these cases isn’t really to sell copies, it’s to generate a virtuous cycle, where you publisher thinks, “Wow, this book got a lot more buzz than we expected,” so they invest more heavily in your next one, which might be the breakout.

It doesn’t work for all writers, and it’s faintly embarassing to admit that you paid for the chance at publicity. It’s also a lot of money to pay for someone who is essentially just sending emails for you to a bunch of outlets, but it’s what I’m doing!

Anyways, I have expectations.

Normally when a friend sells a book, I warn them that the six months before and after the debut book release will involve partial derangement. Everything starts to feel loaded with significance, and in an effort to determine if your book is succeeding or failing, you examine all kinds of tea-leaves: blurbs, advance reviews, number of exclamation points in emails from your editor.

The cycle gets easier with each book, but it still happens. Although I have THREE books under contract and two releasing next year, I’ve still only published two books! So I don’t really have the most experience with books actually coming out. As my biologist wife would say, my N is very small.

Okay, now let’s actually post this thing and see how it goes

Comments (



  1. Yasmin Nair

    Always glad to read your newsletter, and I appreciate your honesty about the publishing process.

  2. William

    > a la the following screenshot of the blog post template.

    Doesn’t seem to be any following screenshot? Am I missing something?

    1. Naomi Kanakia

      Whoops, yeah, I’m still getting used to the new layout / posting structure. Don’t worry, it wasn’t much of an image

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