Anna David, PARTY GIRL

Anna David, PARTY GIRL

“I think a lot of us have that thing where it’s like, ‘Who am I to think I could write a book?’ I’m now always telling people, ‘Who are you not to?'” Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author and founder of Legacy Launch Pad Anna David to talk about the re-release of her novel, Party Girl, as well as the many other things she is working on. Anna shares how her disappointing experience with traditional publishing led her to start an independent service designed to help authors succeed on their own terms, and her new project, Hollywood Book Directory, which helps get books optioned. The two also discuss why they are shaking up the industry and some of the successes they’ve already had along the way.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Anna. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Party Girl and your whole career.

Anna David: Thank you so — this is bucket-list level, being on your show. I am not just saying that. I’m so excited to be here, truly.

Zibby: Aw, that’s so nice. Now I’m worried I’m going to disappoint you or something.

Anna: It’s impossible.

Zibby: Why don’t we start by you telling listeners what Party Girl is about?

Anna: Party Girl is a novel about a wild and crazy girl who gets a job documenting her wild and crazy life right when she gets sober, so she has to create this persona based on who she used to be. It came out in 2007 through HarperCollins. Then I got the rights back, and I rereleased it in September of 2020 myself.

Zibby: Wow. What propelled that?

Anna: Ugh, god, it’s very complicated. Basically, I did six books traditionally. I was all about traditional publishing. I was a total snob about anybody who didn’t do traditional. Then I just had my heart broken over and over again. For instance, Party Girl, the HarperCollins version, is published under humorous science fiction on Amazon. Now, I have been called many things, but never been accused of being a science fiction writer. Party Girl did come out right when Judith Regan was let go from Harper. The whole division erupted. People talk, in publishing, about how they get orphaned when their editor leaves. I always say it’s like I was orphaned, and the orphanage was then burned to the ground because there was no one there. I didn’t understand what was happening. There were all these high hopes. They paid me a great advance. They were doing all of these things. Then suddenly, there was nothing. There were a lot of offers for the movie rights, but that’s a whole other thing. Then just nothing happened. Then suddenly in the last couple years, quit lit is this whole thing. People are being heralded for writing books about addiction and recovery. I just sort of felt like, I want my book to get the release I always wanted it to get. I have very high standards, so I better do it myself. That’s what I did.

Zibby: Now as a publisher, I’m super interested in this too, so I’m going to just keep going. What did you do differently and better yourself?

Anna: I would say traditional publishing is a little slow to accept how things evolve and not in the trenches. Every day, something changes about the best way to do it. I’m so obsessed with it. I’m actively in there. What actually helps your searchability on Amazon? What is the most effective way to get in bookstores? All of these things. I know you know the stories about people who are traditionally published and are very disappointed by what they feel is a lack of support. That is something that is common among anyone I know who’s not a massively best-selling author. Most of us are not massively best-selling authors. My friend Jennifer Armstrong talks about it — she did have a book hit The New York Times list. She described it as, the publisher’s like, “We’re doing all of these things,” and then this inner sanctum opens up when you actually hit The New York Times list. You’re like, okay, now I’m having the real meetings where they’re really behind me. It’s not that publishers are terrible people or don’t want to encourage people. It’s a business. They’ve got to put their resources behind those things they know are hits. The problem is, it’s creative, so we all get our hopes up and think it’s going to be different for us. We’re going to get all that support. Publishers have limited resources, right?

Zibby: Yeah. Wait, go back because I feel like we’re lacking the context for all of this. You’ve written many books and done such cool stuff. Go back to the beginning for a minute. Where did you grow up? How did we get here? Give me the whole background on you.

Anna: I’m from Marin County in Northern California. I went to college and I majored in literary writing, they called it. I did it because I was kind of a screwup and it sounded really easy. There were no exams. Also, writing is all I ever knew how to do well, or that’s how I felt. I loved writing fiction. I loved reading. People kind of explained to me that there was no real career in this, but I didn’t really listen. Back then, this was the nineties, so you could absolutely make a great living writing for magazines. I just dove into that. I worked at a bunch of magazines, first in New York, then in San Francisco, then in LA. They were entertainment magazines. It was People and Premiere and Us Weekly. Basically, what happened is, I was sitting in someone’s office. He pulled a book off his shelf. He said, “So-and-so wrote this book,” a person I knew. I thought — this is so obnoxious — I’m smarter than her. If she can do this, I can do this. It had never really crossed my mind that my life would be any bigger than doing write-around pieces on J.Lo. That’s what I thought I was going to do. I thought, I could do that. What had happened to me is, after this lifetime of being a party girl, I got sober. I got hired at Premiere magazine to do a column called Party Girl. I was going to premieres and the Oscars and all of these things acting this part of this party girl. I thought, that is a really funny, great concept for a novel.

I chose to do a novel and not a memoir, which is a decision that part of me really regrets because when people talk about recovery, quit lit, all of this stuff, it never really gets included because it doesn’t seem like that. My whole thing is, with recovery memoirs, I love them when they’re a complete screwup. Then they get sober, and I get really bored. One of the great discoveries I made in recovery is how fun and funny it is. I wanted a book that showed that, that didn’t make the recovery part boring. I did that. Then I continued to get book deals with Harper. They felt badly that I had gotten very neglected and my book had gotten very — it was released under this sort of fake imprint that Harper made up. Then it’s listed under something else. It’s a total disaster. Book after book — I did four books with them. Every time, I would get my hopes up. I would be like, I’m going to be the lead title. I liken to, it’s like you wrote and produced and starred in and directed a movie. You had the studio behind you. Then the day the movie comes out, no one’s returning your calls. You’re like, but I thought we were doing this — you funded this. That’s sort of what it felt like over and over.

Zibby: Wow. What were all the other books about?

Anna: I did another novel. What happened is, when my agent and I went in to meet with ReganBooks — the story of it selling is kind of great. I had been working on it. I didn’t have an agent. I was writing a lot for magazines. I get this email from this guy. He’s like, “I’m an agent. I think your writing is really funny. If you ever have a book you want to do, I hope you’ll think of me.” I said, “I have a book. I just finished it. This is so amazing.” He said, “Great. Send it to me.” I send it to him.” He said, “I want to sign you. I’m going to be in LA.” I’m literally going to go to lunch with this guy, and I get an email from someone else that says, “I’m an agent in New York. I think your writing is really good. I hope you’ll think of me if you have a book.” I write her back. I say, “That’s so funny. I’m signing with an agent today, literally in an hour.” She said, “Okay, do me a favor. Send me your book. If I don’t like it, you got no issue. If you like it, you need to give me a shot. Don’t sign anything today.” I go and I meet with this guy. He brought papers. I’m like, “Look, I’m not signing.” He was super weirded out about it. He’s like, “I’ve already shown people your book,” which he shouldn’t have done. Then she, Pilar is her name, called me the next day. She’s like, “I can sell this.” I went with her. It was a completely magical experience. She’s so smart. She’s now an agent at UTA.

Zibby: I know her.

Anna: Oh, you do? She’s amazing. She is literally a queen. She goes, “I’m going to sell it at auction, which just means I’m going to send it out to everyone and lie and say you’re coming to New York in three days, so they have to read it right now or they’ll miss the shot to meet with you. If no one likes it, you don’t have to come to New York. If you do, you’re buying a ticket.” They liked it, so I came to New York. We had meetings that week.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. So it ended up selling at auction-ish?

Anna: Yes. Well, I’ll tell you, the reality is only two were interested in the end. Then one offer was so bad that we just — Regan was my first choice, so I was thrilled.

Zibby: Wow, what a story. This is crazy.

Anna: I know. I don’t know if it’s just having an ego or whatever, but I’m like, oh, yeah, this was meant to be. I’m going to have the Cinderella story. Then it’s like the ball ended and midnight struck. I’m so grateful that I had that experience, but it really wasn’t, in the end, what I wanted.

Zibby: Then Party Girl came back out again during the pandemic.

Anna: Yes. What happened is, there’s been a lot of development in terms of the movie. Basically, I was starting to realize that I really think the movie’s going to happen, and I wanted to own the rights rather than having it be complicated with Harper. I’m actually still at InkWell, the agency that Pilar was at. I’m with her mentor. Her former mentor is now my agent. It’s all very circuitous and great. It’s not like it sold a million copies, but I got the cover I wanted. I got to launch it how I wanted. I get to develop the movie. I wrote the screenplay.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is so cool. Do you have a production company and all that?

Anna: Hollywood is its own monster. There’s a lot of producers attached at this point. What we have is the funding to make an offer to an actress. Then once we have an actress that they know can sell tickets overseas, we can go get the rest of the money. That’s where we’re at. We’re still looking at directors. I’m so excited. I don’t love everything I write. I loved the book. The love the script.

Zibby: Wait, so whatever happened to the person who wrote the book and you were like, I’m smarter than her?

Anna: She’s always kind of a step ahead of me. I haven’t talked to her in a long, long time, but she’s super successful.

Zibby: She is? Oh, my gosh.

Anna: Yes. I’m really grateful to her for showing me — I think a lot of us have that thing where it’s like, who am I to think I could write a book? I’m now always telling people, who are you not to? I didn’t understand that I could own that desire. It just seemed like a dream for someone else. That’s why I encourage everyone. I think everyone’s got a book in them. I don’t think everyone should write the book themselves, but I think everyone’s got a book in them.

Zibby: You think they should get ghostwriters?

Anna: Depends. A writer, to me, is someone who writes every day, a lot of the day, and has for many years. What I tell people is, if you don’t do that, then somebody who does do that is going to do a better job than you. It’s really about, do you want the experience of writing a book, or do you want the best book you can have? People land on different sides of that.

Zibby: Interesting. It’s true. The more you practice anything, the better you’ll get, but no matter how much you work, if you have no talent at writing, it will still be a challenge for you.

Anna: It’s true, but the best writers I know are the ones who do it the most. I have a writing group that I started during the pandemic that’s still going. It’s called The Inner Circle. They log on every day at ten AM Pacific Time to write. One of my team members manages it. When we started and I started to read their stuff, I was like, it’s good they have a dream. A year later, they are really good. They’re not getting taught. They’re just doing it every day. It’s pretty amazing.

Zibby: That is amazing. It’s such a good reminder and lesson. Also, chances are, the people who are writing every day enjoy it the most. Maybe not, but if you find yourself writing every day for years, you probably don’t mind it, or you have nothing else that you can do at all.

Anna: I think it’s really fun for some of us and really hellish for others. It’s not always that what we’re good at, we also love. It can happen. Oh, wait, I want to tell you, too, about the movie thing. I have this new side thing, which is the Hollywood Book Directory. What I’m doing is I’m connecting indie authors with Hollywood producers.

Zibby: Okay, tell me everything about this.

Anna: Basically, there have never been more TV shows that are being made from books, ever. Everybody wants IP, intellectual property. The problem is that they mostly are getting the same material. CAA is sending out some number-one New York Times best-selling book. They’re all fighting for it when books like The Martian and the new Andy Weir book are being adapted and made into huge hit movies; Fifty Shades of Grey. I thought, indie authors have no way of getting their material in front of the right people. Hollywood people have no ability to find these indie authors. Since I know both — I lived in LA since 1996 — I figured I could connect them. I’ve just created — it’s very beta right now. Basically, the authors pay a monthly membership. I have committee members, good Hollywood people with wonderful credits and all of the things, who regularly look through it and look at the material. If they want an introduction, I’ve got nothing to do. I’ve got no back end or anything. It’s just simply an introduction service.

Zibby: Wow, that’s really interesting because a lot of producers have been asking me for things about the books. I’ve actually had some of my things optioned, some of the books that I’ve had on optioned because my — maybe this is a conversation for another time. I have this whole list. I was asking a bunch of the authors in my Facebook group for authors who have been on my podcast, does anybody still have options available for your books that you’d want me to help with? I’ve been sending out this little packet of all these pitches, essentially, to a couple different places. Each place would take one and then say, okay, I’m good now. I’ve been kind of casually doing that. Again, no back end for me either. Just, I’m trying to matchmake, essentially.

Anna: Exactly. We should talk.

Zibby: We should talk, yeah.

Anna: What a gift to help both sides that really could use each other.

Zibby: Totally. I totally agree with you, too, that some of the best books that make fabulous movies, people overlook because they don’t know the author or it didn’t do that well or something, but it doesn’t matter. Maybe it didn’t do well because of timing. Maybe it didn’t have the right cover. There are a million reasons why a book that should’ve done well didn’t particularly do well. That doesn’t mean it makes any less of a good movie.

Anna: Books are the most undemocratic — publishing is so — you either rise to the very top or no one’s heard of it. There’s really not a so-called middle class in books. The midlist author has really disappeared, I think.

Zibby: Interesting. Did you know I started a publishing company called Zibby Books?

Anna: I did. It’s part of the big five. It’s a division of — no?

Zibby: No. I just did it. We are an independent publishing company, so we get to do it however we want. I basically took all the feedback of all the authors. I’ve had like 950 authors on the show, or something. Everybody was saying a lot of the same things, similar to some of the things you were saying that I felt like, structurally, were difficult for publishers to address because they’re big companies and getting bigger and bigger and aggregating. Finally, I was like, well, maybe I can do something about this. We have our own little publishing house. I cofounded it with Leigh Newman. We’re working with Anne Messitte from Viking and Anchor who actually found Fifty Shades of Grey and launched that whole thing. We’ve acquired eleven books. It’s really awesome and fun.

Anna: How many are you planning to release a year?

Zibby: We want to do twelve a year, one a month. We want to give readers all the books they would need in a year, so we want to vary it up, not have two — we want to have it be like, here, read this. Not that we don’t want people reading other books. Of course, people are going to read other publishers’ books. We love that. I love all these other authors. Just because I can’t buy their books, they’re still amazing. For our list, at least, we want a well-rounded year of reading, which is complicated. That’s what we’re shooting for.

Anna: I know that you have Shoshana. I can’t remember her last name.

Zibby: Shoshana Gruss.

Anna: Wasn’t that your first acquisition?

Zibby: Yeah, one of them. That’s because I’m like, you should write a book. That’s my favorite thing to say.

Anna: When you can follow it with, let me publish it, it’s their favorite thing to hear.

Zibby: I hope so. I can’t say it very much because we’re doing fiction and memoir. Anyway, it sounds like we have a lot of the same sort of thoughts and everything.

Anna: You’re a big proponent of the indie bookstore. That is a big passion of yours.

Zibby: It is.

Anna: How is #22in22 going?

Zibby: It’s going great. Thank you for asking. I’m supposed to be interviewing you. Yes, it’s going great. It’s yielding more benefits than I even envisioned when I started it. I randomly had the idea to do this as I was on a team marketing call out walking the dog on the phone about to go to school pickup. I was like, hey, what if we did this? Now we have all these bookstores who are like, we want to partner with you. It’s amazing. Then we give them social media slides and everything. We’re trying to find more ways to partner with the bookstores. Then all these readers are going out. Then they’re posting about each one. Now I have just started a Facebook group for the people who are going most regularly. Now that’s this super active Facebook group. It’s just very cool to see where this is going to go. I don’t know. I’m just throwing it out into the universe and seeing what happens.

Anna: It’s so good. Legacy Launch Pad, my company, is one of the partners.

Zibby: Yes. Tell me about that.

Anna: I’m going to confess. I haven’t been to an indie bookstore. It was January. I have to make up for —

Zibby: — That’s okay.

Anna: What I like about it is it’s so doable. It’s not one of those challenges where you have to fast for ten days or something like that. This will bring something delightful to your life. Everybody, I think, no matter what city they’re in, has a favorite indie bookstore. Mine’s Book Soup.

Zibby: I love Book Soup. I used to live right there in West Hollywood.

Anna: Oh, you did?

Zibby: Back in the day, yes. I was there after college for a couple years. That was my bookstore. Walked there all the time. I also love Diesel.

Anna: I’m not a West Side person, so I don’t think I’ve even ever been.

Zibby: You’ve never been to the West Side of LA?

Anna: No, I’ve never been to the Diesel bookstore.

Zibby: Oh. I was like, oh, my gosh, that’s impressive for somebody who’s lived in LA since the nineties.

Anna: Barely. I definitely go to indie bookstores a lot more often than I go to the West Side. The Last Bookstore downtown is epic.

Zibby: Yes, that’s an experience. Wait, tell me more about Legacy Launch Pad.

Anna: I started it in 2017. What happened is, I ghostwrote a book for this actor. We got a deal with Simon & Schuster. That book became a New York Times best-seller. Because of that, people kept coming to me and saying, will you write my story? Will you write my book? It was a very challenging experience, mostly because of the person I was doing it for, not because ghostwriting is an unpleasant activity. It took it out of me. I was just like, you know what? No, I can’t. One person, a sports agent named Darren Prince, was just insistent. He just wouldn’t go away. He’s like, “I want you to do this. I want you to do this.” I kept saying no. Finally, he said, “Could you edit it?” I’m like, “I could ask a friend to write it, and I’ll edit.” He goes, “As long as you’re involved, I’m in.” I hire somebody to write the book. I edit it. Darren says, “I love it. Now you have to publish it.” As you know, piecing these pieces together, I was like, “I don’t know how to do that.” He said, “That’s okay. I’ll pay you to learn.” So I learned. We published his book. It became a hit, not in book sales. It was a hit for him. He got this six-figure spokesperson deal. He launched this massive speaking career. He optioned the rights to Lionsgate. It just went on and on. He got on all the shows. He’s a really good networker, so that helped a lot. I did that.

Then this woman, Emily Lynn Paulson, came along and wanted a book too. I hired the same person to write it. I edited it. She did the same thing. Now she’s quoted in The New York Times. They both wanted to be recovery advocates. Because I’m sober so long and have written all these books about recovery, a lot of those people come to me. She did the same thing. She’s got this huge coaching business. She’s on the Today Show. They taught me what a book could do for somebody. I just thought, they’re the ones with their life experience. Ghostwriting isn’t knocking them. It’s saying, you don’t really have time to learn how to do this and extract your life experience. I’ve got professional writers who write for The New York Times and do all these things. They can interview you and write the book. Now we’ve released about twenty-five books. We have about twenty scheduled to come out. We never advertise. We’ve never promoted. It’s just been a constant word-of-mouth thing. I have a really small team. We don’t work with everyone who contacts us. My thing, too, is it’s an expensive — it’s an investment. If you’re not going to earn back ten times what you pay us, I don’t think you’re a good client for us. You’re never going to earn it through book sales. You’re going to make a couple thousand through book sales. Through your business that backs it up, it could be the best investment you make.

Zibby: That’s amazing. So cool.

Anna: It’s not for fiction, of course, even though, ironically, Party Girl is the thing that got me on all these TV shows and got me TEDx talks and all of these things. It’s much harder. It’s much harder with a memoir, to build a business on it. Darren Prince and Emily Lynn Paulson both did it, and plenty of our other clients now.

Zibby: That’s so cool. How many do you do a year?

Anna: That’s a great question. It kind of depends. I just keep adding team members because I don’t want to say no. We’re doing about one and a half a month, so about fifteen. It’s hard, and I know you get this, to scale and keep quality. How do you do that? We have competitors who are just real book factories and follow a formula and don’t care that much about quality. I do.

Zibby: Who are some of your main competitors?

Anna: There’s a company called Scribe out of Austin, Texas. They’re not really a competitor because they dwarf us. They’ve released thousands of books. Every day, I hear about somebody else or another company. That just tells me I’m in a really good business, that there are so many companies popping up that do this.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I absolutely love this. It’s so cool. Amazing. Legacy Launch Pad, your whole thing is, give us twenty hours — I’m looking on your site — give us twenty hours of your time, and we’ll give you a book that’s indistinguishable from a traditionally published New York Times best-seller. How do you do that?

Anna: A lot of my team, just like me, comes from the traditional publishing world. I use the best cover designers, the best editors, the best layout people. It is indistinguishable. The thing is, a lot of people will say that they want to sell a book traditionally because they want mainstream media. They want to get in bookstores. I know that I really wanted to get on Good Morning America for all six of my traditionally published books. They weren’t interested. With the one I published myself, I went on and had a five-minute segment. Nobody cares about the publisher. It’s different. Your imprint’s different because people know who you are. You’re this book person, so of course, it will be different. It’s not the monolithic, some division of HarperCollins that no one’s heard of. I interviewed James Daunt, the CEO of Barnes & Noble, two weeks ago. He said no one cares about who the publisher is. Barnes & Noble used to be all pay-for-play. All the books, publishers paid for them. Now they’re locally curated. The people in Nebraska who work there decide. I’ve gotten my books in Barnes & Noble by just walking in and asking, and so have a lot of my clients, whereas my traditionally published books are not there.

Zibby: Very interesting. Changing tides. This is barely a podcast. I feel like we just talked shop for the whole time, which I loved. I hope people listening think this is as fascinating as I do. It’s so cool. It’s just very cool how you did this and how you came at it. The novel, too, which we barely talked about, was fabulous, and especially the hitting-bottom moment and ending up in the — the whole thing. Thank you so much for coming on. I hope we continue this conversation.

Anna: Anytime. Thank you so much for having me. If you want to talk about bridging Hollywood and publishing or anything, I would love it.

Zibby: Yeah, that would be cool too.

Anna: This is truly an honor. Thank you.

Zibby: We’re in LA a lot, so we’ll meet up.

Anna: I would love it. With Murphy.

Zibby: With Murphy, yes.

Anna: Thank you, Zibby. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye.

Anna: Bye.

Anna David, PARTY GIRL

PARTY GIRL by Anna David

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