Here’s the Deal: Getting to Know Author Courtney Maum

You could think of Courtney Maum’s new book, Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting and Surviving Your First Book, as a kind of crash course in publishing. That is, it contains a ton of information, all in one place, and it doesn’t get too bogged down in details. But if the words “crash course” make you think “shallow and perfunctory,” that couldn’t be further from the truth.

To begin with, Maum, the author of Costalegre, Touch, and I Am Having so Much Fun Here Without You, has been through the publishing gauntlet herself, so she has plenty of firsthand experience to draw on. That makes the book read more like handy notes from that friend who knows what’s what than some slapdash seminar that’s mostly just someone reading off a PowerPoint. It’s also something you might not expect from an industry guide: funny. “For reasons we will not get into here, I once attended clown school,” Maum writes at one point, as a way to introduce talking about your inner critic. At another point, talking about preparing to submit to editors: “Only one more circle of query hell to go!”

But this isn’t a memoir, and Maum doesn’t only draw on her own experience. The list of people cited or interviewed for this book is four pages long (!) and includes everyone from Saeed Jones to R.O. Kwon, Mira Jacob to Edan Lepucki, Maggie Nelson to Cheryl Strayed, Ottessa Moshfegh to Roxane Gay. What’s more, there’s no brow-beating about you must do things exactly this way in order to succeed. Sure, you’ll hear about what industry folks will expect you to do in certain situations, but at every point there is acknowledgment that your mileage (and word count) may vary.

Get to know Maum as she answers our Authors IRL questionnaire.

I’ve been listening to: Yucatan FM! My husband got this gizmo called a Roberts Steam 94i that plays any radio station in the world without having to futz around with an app. I’ve been taking Spanish lessons so he pre-set some Spanish stations for me, and Yucatan FM is my very favorite. The music is beautiful and cheerful, and it’s broadcast from Mérida, Mexico, which is a city I have a lot of affection for.

I love to watch: I tore through the entire first season of Mytho on Netflix and now I’m in a program rut. Over the holidays we watched Wrong by Quentin Dupieux with our daughter — it’s an unlikely feel good movie, but once you settle into the ballsy weirdness and surrender to the rhythm, a Dupieux film is like nothing else — his movies display the most original humor I’ve ever heard or seen.

Courtney Maum. Photo by Colin Lane.

Something I saw online that made me laugh, cry, or think: On January 1st, the author Rebecca Makkai tweeted, “Listen, I had a hell of a decade (four books, etc.) but the honest-to-god high point was when my second kid could finally click herself into her own damn car seat.” I loved that. The car seat milestone resonated with me — I’ve also published four books in the last decade but the non-publishing timeline is equally interesting and poignant. My child is reading herself to sleep now and it’s beautiful to see.

Best meal I’ve had in the past month: I live in a rural area so the best meals are usually at friends’ homes. Our friends Bevan and Eliza cook like nobody else — every meal is wildly different from the last one and made from the truest scratch: rabbit that our friends raised and butchered, homemade pappardelle …

A creator who’s doing something I admire or envy: I don’t know her personally, but Hanya Yanagihara has a pretty swell career. To have written a book as profound and accomplished as A Little Life and then to travel around the world as T Magazine’s editor in chief to the world’s most intriguing destinations sounds pretty good to me!

A book I recently recommended to someone else: Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight. It’s not out until March but please trust me — pre-order it. It is the antidote for anyone looking for something impeccably unique.

The last event I bought tickets to was: I went contra dancing on Thanksgiving in Lincoln, MA. Dancing with strangers was the perfect way to spend a holiday that is supposed to be about communion and good-neighborliness.

Most meaningful recent travel destination: The indescribable Careyes in Western Mexico. This place is my muse. It was a principal character in my short story “Tourist Season” and my chapbook “Notes from Mexico” and my latest novel, Costalegre, too. It also makes an appearance in a memoir I’m revising at the moment.

I wish I knew more about: Religion(s). My daughter is at an age where she has a lot of questions about the afterlife. I was raised without religion but I want to let her know how many belief systems there are. If anyone knows of a religious buffet somewhere that I can take her to, let me know.

My favorite thing about bookstores: Bookstores are a brick and mortar edifice of resistance. My big thing for the last few years has been to fight against the siren call of convenience. There is real and vital magic in the act of taking time to visit an independent bookshop, talk to the humans who work there, purchase a book that you came for (or possibly one that a bookseller helped you discover). The bookstore is an ecosystem that needs us to fight for its survival, and the few dollars more that it costs to buy a book from a shop (rather than an online outlet) is an investment we should cherish.