Scribd Interview: Author Hyla Molander
Earlier this week, we shared the story of longtime Scribd author, Hyla Molander's journey to market and publish a book using Kickstarter.
Today, we present an interview with her that goes into her background using Scribd, thoughts on self-publishing and the extremely personal story that is the foundation of her forthcoming memoir, Drop Dead Life.
Scribd: Can you give me some background on how you first came upon Scribd?
Hyla Molander: Let’s just say that—like most writers—I was in search of better ways to share my writing with the world. And, also like most writers, I feared that no one would want to read it. I first came across Scribd four years ago, when someone from Scribd came to speakto the ‘Write on, Mamas’ group I was in. At that time, she’d said there were about 50 million Scribd users—now I think there are 100 million—but I honestly thought that uploading excerpts of my forthcoming memoir, Drop Dead Life, would just be another time-suck. I have four children, so finding the time to write is a feat in itself . . . and I had never even heard of Scribd.
But I kept hearing about “platform.” And three different agents, all of whom had expressed interest in helping me find a house to publish my memoir, pounded that word into my head even more. For those who don’t know what platform means—because
I certainly didn’t—platform means that you have a proven audience of people who will want to read your book. Sadly, if you don’t have a large platform, most traditional publishing houses won’t even consider you.
I’d started a blog and was posting weekly, along with my Facebook page, but I certainly didn’t have 50 million readers. So, whether or not it was going to drain more of my time, I decided to upload the first chapter of Drop Dead Life onto Scribd. And then I almost fell over when I saw that it had been read 7000 times in the first week. People actually raved about it! It was all incredibly overwhelming—in the best possible way.
Thinking back, I am still amazed at how my decision to upload that first chapter changed everything for me. Even now, as I am returning from a three-year writing hiatus, I see that my excerpt has been read 29,000 times on Scribd and it gives me the courage to finally publish my book.
Scribd: You have gone through a lot in your young life - I would appreciate if you could provide some perspective on your experiences, and how they have led to your current writing?
Hyla Molander: This question makes me laugh—only because, as a child, I used to wish I had more interesting material about which I could write. I recently turned 40 and, well, it seems that life keeps giving me more material than I will ever need.
Without going into too much detail, I will tell you that it took me years of therapy (and medication) to finally get to the place where I felt deserving of my husband’s love. Then, when I had finally submitted to that love and happiness, our 17-month-old daughter and I watched him slide down the kitchen counter and die.
My husband, Erik, and I were both 29, and I was seven months pregnant with our second daughter. One minute he was kissing all over our daughter’s face; 35 minutes later, he was pronounced dead.
While my forthcoming memoir, Drop Dead Life, does cover the complex emotions around Erik’s death and how I got through that period, it isn’t just a book about widowhood. It is also about confronting depression, online dating, after-life connection, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, finding humor, grief, parenting, therapy, and believing that each of us has the ability—regardless of our circumstances—to create the life we desire. Even if we have to do it twice.
When I was widowed, I always had hope. I always believed that I would find loveand joy again. And I knew that the sharing of my journey would not only help me make meaning of my tragedy, but would help others believe that they, too, could find love and joy.
As for my other experiences, the last three years have been really tough. Theday that I was featured in Writer’s Digest about how I had accumulated so many reads on Scribd was the same day that I had to hold my two daughters down to have their blood drawn, in order to see if they had inherited Brugada Syndrome—the “sudden death” heart condition which took my late husband’s life.
Then, as editors from Simon and Schuster and Penguin emailed me with interest in publishing Drop Dead Life, I was making phone calls to the coroner’s office and the tissue bank to track down any viable DNA from Erik so we could confirm the girls’ diagnosis. With the help of the Masonic Medical Research Lab, we were finally able to confirm that both of the girls had, unfortunately, inherited Brugada Syndrome.
I guess this would easily explain why I put my memoir on hold for three years. Trying to rewrite the sections about my then 2-year-old daughter reenacting her daddy’s death while I worried that she or her little sister might drop dead was just too painful on my own heart.
But now, after much time spent advocating for women, widows, mental health, defibrillators in schools, and a treatment for Brugada Syndrome, it feels amazing to be in the throes of making Drop Dead Life the best it can be for release in April, 2014.
And, if you hadn’t figured it out, I have all the material I need for memoir #2.
Scribd: What is the biggest goal you hope to achieve with your work on Drop Dead Life?
Hyla Molander: Well, since you asked . . . I believe in the power of defining exactly what we want in our lives so that we can create it. My goal is to have Drop Dead Life be an international best-seller and to have Kate Winslet play the 29 to 34-year-old Hyla (with depth and humor) in the Drop Dead Life feature film. These are not things I desire because I want the spotlight; these are things I want because I know they will encourage the maximum number of people to find their light in any type of darkness. Sharing my story will also advance the treatment for Brugada Syndrome, get defibrillators into all public schools (so others, like my girls, won’t have to carry them to school every day), and help raise awareness to save the lives of the 400,000 people who drop dead every year from SIDS and SADS heart conditions like Brugada.
Scribd: What is one of the best lessons you have learned from both living your life, raising your children and working on writing this project?
Hyla Molander: Aside from the importance of having an awesome sense of humor, one of the best lessons I have learned in all of my experiences is that it is not about the WHY. Of course, we all want to know why things happen. My 11-year-old daughter—the one who was 17-months-old when she watched her daddy die — wanted to know why, after all that we had been through, both she and her little sister had to inherit Brugada Syndrome. And I told her that it wasn’t about the why. It was about the what.
What we choose to do with our challenges is the most important thing. We can choose to make our own meaning by using our voices to help others. In my daughter’s case, she wrote a book on grief for children, for which we used both Facebook and Scribd to raise enough money to send 700 signed copies to the grieving children at Sandy Hook Elementary. She has also joined me to advocate for defibrillators in schools and a treatment for Brugada Syndrome.
When we choose to make our own meaning, the “why did this happen?” becomes clear.
Scribd: How has the Scribd community helped you in this writing?
Hyla Molander: As I mentioned above, the Scribd community has helped me have the confidence to keep pushing forward with my writing. The feedback I have received from other writers on Scribd is invaluable. And the fact that I can take that feedback, make revisions, and then re-upload that revised document without losing any of my “reads” or other stats on that document is incredible.
Through the Scribd community, I have been able to connect with other publications—like the Good Men Project Magazine—for which I had wanted to write … and then did.
I also relied on my Scribd community to help save a friend’s life after he left a suicidal post on Facebook. Uploading a PDF of that friend’s photo with all of the information that I knew would help find him made it easy for other people to share the search for him by “readcasting” from Scribd to Facebook and Twitter, and also download and embed that PDF wherever they could. Out of respect for his privacy, I have since deleted that PDF upload, but authorities were able to find him before it was too late and I know his children are enjoying having their father around.
Given the fact that I was too emotionally distraught over my daughters to work on my memoir for three years, I am extra grateful to the writers who I have met and stayed in touch with on Scribd—all of whom are, once again, giving me the support I need.
Scribd: Where are you at with the book right now?
Hyla Molander: I’m excited to say that I am now working with my dream editor on Drop Dead Life so that my final draft will be complete in January. I will be independently publishing and releasing my memoir in April, 2014, when signed copies will be delivered to all of the people who are currently helping me reach 100% of my recently launched Kickstarter goal.
Scribd: What advice do you have to the self-publishers, indie-authors out there?
Hyla Molander: Things have changed so much in these past few years, so I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on indie-publishing. I would most definitely encourage reading posts by Jane Friedman, Carla King, Joanna Penn, and Guy Kawasaki. There are many others, of course, but these are my personal go-to sources.
What I do know about indie-publishing is that it is still extremely important to produce a high quality book, which means hiring an editor (or multiple editors), paying for book cover design, layout, and having a phenomenal marketing plan.
Before that, though, there’s that word “platform” again. Unless you are only writing your book for yourself or your family, people need to know that you exist. Start writing for blogs, submit to magazines, and definitely upload short documents onto Scribd — preferably with a cover that will attract the attention of readers. And don’t forget to share those blog posts, magazine articles, and Scribd documents all on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linkedin. The exchanges you will have with your readers will only deepen your writing and spark ideas for more content that others will want to read.
Scribd: You are using Kickstarter in a really interesting way to promote your Scribd book -- tell me about that?
Hyla Molander: I needed to figure out a way to cover all of the expenses involved with publishing Drop Dead Life, so I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Without the community I have built on Scribd, though, I never would have had the nerve to launch this crowdfundng campaign. Sharing the most intimate details of my life in written form or at speaking events is one thing, but trust me when I say that running a Kickstarter campaign feels like prancing around naked on the internet, worrying that everyone will judge all of my
imperfections. As someone who has always used Scribd and social media to help other people, it is an uncomfortable feeling to ask others to help me publish my memoir or pledge $29 to pre-order a signed copy.
Kickstarter is all or nothing. So, yeah, I only have until August 19th to reach my entire funding goal or I don’t see a dime of it. In order to help me get there, I’ve uploaded a Drop Dead Life excerpt on Scribd, which includes the link to my Kickstarter campaign.
I have also included the link to my Kickstarter campaign in my Scribd bio. Because of Scribd’s high page rank, all of this will help me spread the word and reach my goal. Of course, people will also be able to comment on my excerpt, embed it on their websites, and share it with their Scribd followers and social networks.
Some of my friends who have run crowdfunding campaigns warned me that managing my Kickstarter campaign would be a fulltime job and, whew, I now see for myself that it definitely is. In fact, I need to go message all of my Scribd followers and ask them to please help me spread the word.
None of this is easy—especially with all four kids home for the summer—but I have no doubt that it will be worth it.