Swallow by Tonya Plank

A synopsis: "Sophie Hegel is a shy New York lawyer from small-town Florence Arizona, known not for the Renaissance but for housing a large prison. She’s just graduated from Yale Law School and landed her first job when, one evening she feels a fist-like ball form at the base of her throat. Diagnosed with the psychological condition Globus Sensate, this 'fist-ball' wreaks havoc on her life, causing difficulty eating, speaking, and eventually breathing. With a cast of characters that includes a pornographer father, a sister with a knack for getting knocked up by denizens of the town pen, a tough-talking fashion maven, a painter of male nudes, an eccentric Sing Sing-residing client and a bevy of privileged Manhattan attorneys and judges, Swallow is a dark comedy about the distance that can separate fathers and daughters, and about a young woman’s struggle to survive in a world of pedigreed professionals for which she has no preparation." Visit the Swallow webpage to see what critics are saying, and to read the first chapter.

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Feature

The IPPY Effect IX

A Conversation with IPPY Award-Winning Novelist Tonya Plank
Tonya Plank's debut novel, Swallow, is obviously a good book.

It went on to win the 2010 Best Regional Fiction/Northeast IPPY gold medal.

And she has a blurb on the back of her book that any author, agent, or publisher would consider marketing gold:

"Tonya Plank (is) one of New York's most precious assets."

It's from Vanity Fair's, James Wolcott, one of her dance blog's biggest supporters.

Still, she ended up self-publishing.

The former New York City criminal appeals attorney and competitive ballroom dancer who also describes herself as "a longtime balletomane," Plank writes the much-talked-about dance blog, Swan Lake Samba Girl. You might think that all of this would have led her to a book contract.

It probably would have, but agents don't stick around very long anymore. After her agent submitted it to the usual handful of imprints at major houses, she bowed out when none of them offered a contract. Plank was disappointed, but not angry. She even thanks her former agent on Swallow's acknowledgments page.

Rather than try to get another agent, Plank decided to self-publish.

She created Dark Swan Press, and published Swallow on Dec. 11, 2009.

So far, so good.

Q: How many copies of Swallow have you sold, and how have you promoted the book?

A: I've sold about 3,000 copies. I've written about it in my blog, I've sent it out to bloggers and the top Amazon reviewers. I've gotten 95% positive reviews from bloggers.

I'm online on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I also have a Kindle version of the book, and I've promoted it with an ad in Kindle Nation Daily, which goes out to people who own Kindle. More than 2,500 of my 3,000 sales have come from Kindle. I got a great review in Kindle Nation Daily, too. I'm active on Goodreads and put an ad there, too. The Editor in Chief of Dance magazine follows my dance blog and also promoted my book on Twitter.

Q: How has winning an IPPY gold medal affected your promotion and marketing?

A: After the book won the award, it was more attractive to reviewers. A lot of the blog reviews came after I won the award.

Q: You've concentrated on promoting the book online and as an e-book. What have you done 'off-line' to promote it?

A: The majority of people aren't reading on e-readers. There's a big audience for the print version that I haven't tapped yet. In September, at the Brooklyn Book Festival, I went in on a table with a friend. It was really fun. I signed and sold books, and it was exciting to sell the print version and have interaction with the readers.

Q: Do you have any help as a self-publisher?

A: I'm doing it all myself. I'm selling the print version and the e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores, and the Kindle version at the Kindle store on Amazon. I'm trying to work on my next book. As a self-publisher, it's hard to write, promote my book, and write my blog. I have another Kindle Daily Nation promotion, an ad, coming up this month. I started my dance blog in 2006, and now I promote the book on the blog, too. I'm trying to do a combination of both. I get so many good reviews that I want to put on the blog, but I know people are also reading my blog because they want to hear about dance and read my dance reviews and news.

Q: What's the best part of this experience?

A: That my book has an audience and it sells. People like it, and they tell me they're waiting for the next one. I've gotten a lot of e-mails from readers who tell me they can relate to the book. To what I write about New York, as well as the issues of the main character, Sophie, an attorney who has an anxiety disorder.

Q: What's your next novel about?

A: The first one, Swallow, was a dark comedy. But this next one is a legal urban drama set in New York. In a couple of months, I'll have a first draft done and then I'll be editing it.

Q: What motivated you to write Swallow?

A: It's about Sophie's journey to figuring out what's wrong with her since it's psychological, and it's also about the criminal justice system since she represents poor people in the appeals of their convictions. I was inspired to write about it because I had her job and also because I have the disorder. It's called Globus Sensate, and it causes difficulty with swallowing. I had it for a few years, several years ago. It still comes back from time to time, but it's not constant.

Q: Did you figure out what caused it?

A: I was in therapy for a while. I figured out some of what caused it: Not standing up for yourself enough. Low self-esteem. Being shy. Stress. I did a lot of research into it to see what other people's experiences were. I tried to give the character a more comprehensive experience for dramatic purposes.

Q: So, the character of Sophie had a wider range of symptoms than you had.

A: Right.

Q: Did writing the book help you?

A: Definitely. I was writing about the stresses, and the people who constantly cut you down, who are condescending and mean. Writing about it even in a satirical way helps. The condescending Ivy League people in the book talk down to her a lot.

Q: Does she respond to them the way you did in real life?

A: That's a good question. I didn't have the exact same experiences as the characters did. But, yes, pretty much. Sophie responded the same way I did. I didn't speak up. I had to eventually cut them off, not see them. That was hard because they'd been close friends. It wasn't going to get better. I tried talking to some of them, and it got marginally better, but then I had to end the relationships. The ballroom dancing really relaxed me. It gave me new friendships. I was competing from 2004-2007. I don't compete anymore, but I still go dancing, to swing dance and salsa clubs.

Q: They weren't snobs like the people you dealt with in law. You dealt with Ivy Leaguers who gave you a hard time because you didn't go to an Ivy League school.

A. Right. I went to Rutgers for law school. I had also experienced a lot of that at Brown, too, where I was in graduate school. There was snobbishness there about state schools, and I'd gone to the University of Arizona as an undergraduate.

Q: I'm sure this has also been helped by having a self-published book that has been validated by book awards and excellent reviews.

A. Yes, I also got a gold medal in the Living Now Book Awards, in Women's Fiction. And I was a finalist in the Foreword Book of the Year Awards, in general fiction. And I was a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards in Best Regional Fiction.

Q: Have you been contacted by readers who've had the same condition?

A: One had an anxiety disorder in general, and one had this specific one. Some people emailed me that they think they've had it, but they weren't diagnosed.

Q: Is it a difficult diagnosis?

A: After she ruled out a tumor, my doctor diagnosed me right away and referred me to a psychologist.

Q: Did it come on suddenly?

A: Yes, it came on suddenly with me. I was eating dinner one night. I'd experienced before, it in childhood, but just a few times and it went away.

Q: But, this time, as an adult, it stayed. How long had you been practicing law when it happend?

A: About three years.

Q: How long did you have it? And how long have you been okay?

A: I had it for about two-and-a-half years, and I've been okay for about five years.

Q: Do you know if Swallow is the first novel to address this?

A: I looked it up and couldn't find any other book about it.

Q: Not even a non-fiction book?

A: Not that I could find.

Q: Have you thought about a sequel?

A: I've thought about it and a couple of people have asked me about it. I've started to write about something else, though it is about law and New York. Sophie makes a brief appearance, but it's not about the disorder. The book is focused on several other characters. I'm hoping to finish it in the next couple of months. but it's centered on some people who witness a shooting, it's a drama and there's some dance in it. If I do write a sequel to Swallow, which would be another dark comedy, it would also definitely involve dance!

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See past "IPPY Effect" articles:

IPPY Effect VIII: A Conversation with 2009 Ippy Awards Gold Medalist Janet Horvath

IPPY Effect VII: A Conversation with IPPY Winner Steve Bergman (aka Samuel Shem

IPPY Effect VI: A Marketing Conversation with 2008 IPPY Winner Leo Shelton

IPPY Effect V: How Book Awards Garner Foreign Rights Sales

IPPY Effect IV: Turn Over Every Marketing Rock

IPPY Effect III: Wear Your Award Proudly

IPPY Effect II: Outstanding Book of the Year Winner SKYLIGHT PATHS: Awards Recognize Books that Explore Spirituality and Inspire Youth

IPPY Effect I: Book Awards Benefit Publishers in Many Ways

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As a journalist, columnist, essayist, and media critic, Nina L. Diamond's work has appeared in many publications, including Omni magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

She was a regular contributor to a number of "late, great" national, regional, and newspaper Sunday magazines, including Omni; the award-winning South Florida magazine; and Sunshine, the Ft. Lauderdale (now South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Sunday magazine.

She covers the arts and sciences; the media, publishing, and current affairs; and writes feature articles, interviews, commentary, humor/satire/parody, essays, and reviews.

Ms. Diamond is also the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers (Lotus Press) and the unfortunately titled Purify Your Body (Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House) , a book of natural health reporting which has been a selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club's One Spirit Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club.

For its entire run from 1984-1998, she was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, which aired on WLRN-FM in Miami.

She has appeared on Oprah, discussing the publishing industry, but, in a case of very bad timing, that appearance was two years before her first book was published.

She has written her Much Ado About Publishing column for Independent Publisher since 2003.

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