Coming three years after Tina Fey’s New York Times bestselling Bossypants and before the much-anticipated release of Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, former Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central writer and Second City Theater alumnae Cindy Caponera’s new self-published book, I Triggered Her Bully, appears to have found the right readers at the right time.
A series of humorous, linked essays based on Caponera’s life -- or “tiny memoirs” as she refers to them -- the stories cover her childhood in Chicago, as well as her experiences moving to New York, getting married, and working as a television writer, a job she’s had since being hired at SNL in 1995. The book takes its name from its first essay, which is about Caponera’s father, a retired Chicago fire chief she describes as a “big neighborhood bar fighter” and “a bit of a bully,” and who taught her how to stand up for herself -- with mixed results.
The book comes in at 83 pages -- just the right length to catch the eye of David Blum at the Kindle Singles publishing division at Amazon. A Kindle Single is a type of e-book -- usually long-form journalism or short- to novella-length fiction -- published by Amazon. According to Caponera, Blum read the book soon after she uploaded it in May via Kindle Direct and then got in touch. After some discussion, she agreed to make the book available as a single, and soon it took off. “They did a lot of promotions and giveaways to their [Amazon] Prime members and other regular Kindle readers,” Caponera explains. “At the end of the day, it’s a sheer numbers game and the more hands you can get your book in the better.” I Triggered Her Bully is now a top 100 Kindle book in the nonfiction singles categories for both humor and memoir. The book has also been featured in the Chicago Tribune and Variety.
Caponera had several “famous friends" help promote the book and notes, for example, that Adam McKay, writer and director of Anchorman and Step Brothers, wrote the foreword. “I think I had a leg up because I had been writing for television for many years before I published the book,” Caponera says of the initial publicity. But, once the book was picked up by Kindle Singles, she hired a publicist to capitalize on the exposure. “I was able to get a lot of television, radio, and podcast attention,” she says.
While Caponera admits she got lucky with the Amazon Kindle Singles promotion, the writing and publishing process was a long and fairly unusual one. And the book actually got its start in Los Angeles as a series of monologues.
“What inspired it was an opportunity to read stories out loud and having to have a story done by the date of said show,” Caponera says. “I had to have story.” She eventually pulled a few essays together and created a show that she performed at L.A. theaters. Caponera considered publishing the stories for three years before she finally made the decision to pursue the idea, after which, she says, “the universe put the people in my path I needed to help me finish.” She describes the resulting book as one of the most emotional and labor-intensive projects she’s ever done.
Caponera says she decided to self-publish fairly early on in the process. “I believe the publishing industry is going the way of the music industry 10 years ago. It’s like the Wild West out there now,” she says. After doing some research and talking to a few people in the industry, she came to the conclusion that because of the relatively short length of the book and the fact that “comedic essays” are a tough category, it might be a hard sell to traditional publishers. “There’s only one David Sedaris,” she says.
She also observed similar trends in the publishing and television industries: “[Publishers] want you to have a built-in following and they take a much bigger percentage,” she says. Caponera also didn’t like the idea of spending six months trying to find a publisher when she could self-publish on her own schedule. So, after attending a four-hour seminar on self-publishing, she had made up her mind. “All I had to do was find someone to help me push all of the technical buttons,” she says. “And find a great copy editor. They are actually worth all the money.”
Her advice to other writers who may be scrambling to come up with funds for an editor or cover designer is to be creative. “Everyone has friends that have skills,” she says. “You can always pay someone with a dinner or the promise of one -- or barter some skill that you have for their help.” She maintains that a lot of start up money isn’t a necessity. “If you’re smart enough to write stories -- you’re smart enough to figure out creative ways to get the project done.” She’s also optimistic about the long-term prospects for indie authors. “If you are prolific,” Caponera says, “you can start a small writing business and do pretty well...I don’t know if it will send your kids to private school, but it can certainly supplement [your income] and also be very fulfilling creatively -- which makes going to a job you don’t like that much less painful.”
Of the response to her book’s release, Caponera says she’s very grateful, although she admits that even with the Amazon promotion and substantial publicity, selling books is still a challenge. “There always seems to be more to do. The good news is I know a lot about how to do it now.” The tasks on her to-do list include boosting her Facebook fan page, as well as getting her website up and running.
Finally, when asked to consider her place in the world of comedy, and the success of her Second City and SNL colleagues, she reflects that “we’re in a time where there is a plethora a super talented, funny women who are taking risks and redefining the power of the woman artist.”
But her advice to all writers and artists is to simply dig deep, tell personal stories, and to make them funny. “And when people, not just women, realize they are not alone -- it makes them able to move through the world a little easier. I hope that when people read my stuff they are saying to themselves: Oh, so I’m not that crazy. Or, she went through it and survived -- maybe I can too.”