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Dress For The Job You Want

I can’t remember the first time someone told me how important it is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have – but it was definitely a refrain from my younger days. When you grow up feeling like no matter how hard you try, you’re never enough, I think one of two things happen: either you consciously decide to not give a shit, or you go the other way and try so damn hard to be the best at whatever you’re doing that it becomes an addiction of sorts.

You can guess which camp I fell into.

I was in my 20’s, working in non-profit, and it wasn’t long before I figured out that “success” in that field was defined by a traditional career ladder. I decided pretty early on that I would be an Executive Director by the time I turned 30. Part of my job back then was running a very busy summer day camp, and when I was running around a field sucking back Red Bull in a pair of soccer shorts and sneakers, the refrain, “dress for the job you want” came up quite a bit. But I did. And it worked. I achieved the corner office by my 30th trip around the sun.

In that next decade, I became a mom, which is a different kind of job. I wanted to be the best mom humanly possible, especially because I had two little girls and I felt like I would be their first role model in life. So my husband and I moved to the suburbs, bought a house, opened a college fund for each of them when they were born, sent them to the best private school possible. I worked through my day job to remediate their dyslexia, and championed every hobby they took up. I still do. Being their mom is my most important job.

In my mind, if I’m a truly great mom, my kids will grow up to be passionate and brave and will believe in themselves enough to leave the nest and go do whatever amazing things bring them fulfillment. But when you're in the thick of parenting, you can often lose yourself, which definitely happened to me. At some point, I realized that once upon a time, I was a person with my own big dreams. So, when an opportunity presented itself for me to go back to school for a Master’s Degree, I eagerly took it. What better way to teach my children the power of education than to have them watch me go back to school as a grown-up? As a little girl, I dreamed of being an author. It was one of those far off dreams – like the way you might aspire to become a professional baseball player or a rock star. But first, I had to learn the craft of storytelling, so when I turned 40, off I went to Fairfield University’s low residency MFA program.

But it wouldn’t be enough to just go there and learn, right? No. Not for my special brand of crazy. I would finish a novel, I decided.

I did that – in a semester.

We learned a bit about publishing, but not enough to quench my thirst. So in addition to my classes and my writing (and my children and my job running the non-profit) I immersed myself in all the books, all the websites, and learned that if I wanted to be a published commercial author, I would need an agent. I wrote three more books over the two years I was there, queried hundreds of agents, and got signed by my amazing soul sister agent, Elizabeth Copps, 2 months after graduating. I got my book deal three months later.

One might think that would be enough.

But it’s not.

See, if I was going to put a book out into the world, it would have to sell well – which meant I would have to market it, and one thing they definitely don’t tell you in an MFA program is that you should concurrently get a degree in publicity. Ever the hustler, I read more books. I concocted my own book tour for my debut with my own money, because unless you get a six-figure advance as a debut, which is rare, you get minimal marketing support.

In December 2022, I learned that I had been assigned a publicist through my imprint – a newer hire who was responsible for managing dozens of authors. I calculated it back then, and realized with a roster that large, if she gave equal time to all of her authors, she might be able to work with me for about a half hour per week. No one is going to care more about your work or your career than you do, so I showed up to my first meeting with her with a giant binder full of marketing stuff I’d researched and an Excel spreadsheet full of my plans.

I wanted to be a successful author, I told her. I didn’t even know how I defined “success” at that point, but whatever it was, that was what I wanted.

I put together my own swag boxes, threw my own launch party, went out on the road.

Somehow, all those little things combined managed to move the needle.

I sold a lot of books. Enough books for the marketing team at my imprint – not just my publicist but the people she works with as well – to take notice. When it came time to begin thinking about promoting the second book, there was a notable shift in the conversation. Suddenly, I was being invited to events. I was being offered opportunities.

I say yes to everything, every event, every chance to speak or meet with readers – the answer is always yes. My publicist knows this about me, and I think it’s one of the things she loves about working with me. And it’s because of this trait that when the marketing team was brainstorming ideas of who might be a good author to lead a panel at the Strand, the conversation got shut down pretty quickly.

“KJ will do it,” my publicist told them. “She’s local, and she’ll be great.”

Now, for those who don’t know, the Strand is New York City’s largest indie bookstore. It’s iconic; a mecca for bibliophiles. Doing an event there is the equivalent of being called up to the bigs as a triple-A ball player. When I was offered the chance to moderate the Galentine’s Day romance panel, I had no idea who I’d be meeting or what I’d have to do, but the answer would undoubtedly be yes.

I thought about the panels I’d seen before. Successful ones felt natural, organic. Like a real conversation. I would need to read, I decided. There were four authors on the panel other than me, and I wasn’t familiar with any of their work. So, the best way to create natural conversation would be to read their books. One from each author, I decided.

The books came in right around Christmas. I had less than two months, an ailing mother to take care of, a full time job, two children, and a writing deadline of February 15th for submission of my third novel – and now I had to read four books on top of all that.

But I would. And I did. Thanks to lots of sleepless nights like the one I’m writing through right now. (It’s 3:55am at the moment.)

I prepared questions. I found themes that ran across the work of these authors, who, by the way are all amazing. I researched them, looked at their websites, their socials. And I was stunned to learn that every single one of them came about their success on a totally different path.

They were all self-published first.

It blew my mind. There’s something about self-pubbing that is so ballsy and entrepreneurial. It puts the author in complete control. Authors who are household-name famous, like Colleen Hoover and Tessa Bailey, have self-pubbed their work. Sophie Lark (the author who I sat next to on the panel, who is an astounding blend of kindness and savvy) explained that not only do you get control of your business and your money when you self-publish, but you also get full creative control.

These women – LJ Shen, Xio Axelrod, Sara Cate and Sophie Lark – are exceptionally successful. Successful enough to have a room at the Strand in Manhattan packed with people who came out to see them on a freezing cold February night, armed with stacks of their books to be signed. They earned that right by being hungry, too. By hustling. By saying yes.

All this to say, I think I did the marketing team proud. I hope I did the authors proud. I hope they felt I treated them and their work with the reverence and respect it deserves.

Because one day, I want to be invited to the Strand to be on the panel, not just to moderate it.

But until then, I’ll put on my push up bra and sparkly top, my tight black pants and boots, and I will show the fuck up.

To work.


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