Interview with Entrepreneur and Author Karin Abarbanel

Karin Abarbanel is an entrepreneur, marketing consultant, and expert on start-up strategies for women. In addition to her new book, Birthing the Elephant, she is the author of How to Succeed on Your Own and 3 other how-to guides. She served as the spokesperson for Avon’s “Corporation to Cottage” initiative.A frequent guest on broadcast/cable TV and radio, Karin has appeared on ABC TV’s “Good Morning America,” CNBC, and WCBS, among others. She has been a featured speaker at awide range of organizations and universities. She received her MA from Columbia University and her BA from Middlebury College.

She lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband, son, and her dog, Dr. Watson, who holds a PhD in Snackology.

You can visit her website at

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Karin. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I love to write and always have! I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pencil. My first assignment came from my dad, who worked at home as a magazine writer. He gave me a legal pad and asked me to write a letter to his editor, Mrs. Pumpernickel, asking her to send him more money! Eager to oblige, I filled my legal pad with notes. I couldn’t write yet, but no problem! I was happy to scribble away. Then my dad took my letter and put it in an envelope and we walked over to the mailbox and dropped it in. What a thrill! I was hooked.

I wrote poetry as a kid and plays – and even conscripted one of my sisters, Stephanie, to play a prince in second grade – she was not pleased! I stumbled into writing my first book when I was in my 20s; Birthing the Elephant is my 5th book – all non fiction. Four of my books have been how-to guides written for women. I love sharing what I’ve learned with other women and encouraging them to find work they really love and are passionate about.

I am writing a play on Sojourner Truth, the African-American evangelist from the Civil War – this is taking a long time, but it’s a labor of love. I am also branching out into fiction and am thinking of joining a writer’s group to help push me along on this front.

What kind of research was involved in writing Birthing the Elephant?

Birthing the Elephant is a how-to book for aspiring women entrepreneurs: part portable success coach, part action guide to the launch cycle of a new business, it is written to help women take the leap into launching their own ventures. The book is based on interviews with successful women business owners in a range of fields and with experts in areas like
peak performance, stress management, and resiliency. The book is action oriented, not academic. The research we did involved locating and interviewing women entrepreneurs
and experts – and finding out about trends in women’s business ownership.

How much input did you have into the design of the book cover?

Ten Speed Press was great to work with in every way. Its team actually came up with our title, Birthing the Elephant, which I have come to love. We looked at lots of different covers with elephants and briefcases, some photographic, some more cartoon like. Ultimately, we chose cover with a woman leaping – as if into her future. I actually suggested putting the baby elephant on the cover and Ten Speed went with my idea.
So we did have input, but Ten Speed made the ultimate decision – I’m happy with it!

Has it been a bumpy ride becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Every writer’s history is a tale in itself! I sort of “fell” into writing my first book when I was in my 20s and had no idea what I was doing; a skilled, and seasoned writer kindly bailed me out and became my coauthor. Then I co-wrote a 2nd book very soon after. Then I spent about 12 years in corporate marketing before writing my 3rd and 4th books close together. I took a break of about 8 years before teaming up with Bruce Freeman on Birthing the Elephant. So I guess you could say my ride was both smooth and bumpy, I lucked into my first 2 books, but had to work really hard to make the next 3 happen.

For Birthing the Elephant, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

We signed the contract in January ’07 and the book was released in March ’08.

Did you have an agent? Is it necessary to have one?

Yes, we did have an agent. In today’s marketplace I think it really helps tremendously to have an one. Even as an author with four books to my credit with publishers like Henry Holt and McGraw-Hill, selling Birthing the Elephant was challenging. It really helps to have an advocate actively promoting your work – someone who knows which editors might be receptive to your idea. We had a very strong proposal, an exploding target audience of women in small business, and we had a strong marketing platform. Having a marketing platform is really vital. Publishers today want to know that you have “built-in” audience for your book and that you are willing and able to actively promote it. This is a full-time job in itself, I’m finding.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Right now, I’m very busy getting the word out about Birthing the Elephant, but I’m sure there are other books in my future. I’d love to make a foray into fiction!

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

A night writer, absolutely! I always have been. I was the kid reading in bed until all hours with a flashlight and composing poems in the dark! For some reason, I just can’t really get my creative writing juices going until the sun goes down. I think it’s the quiet and the night wrapping me around. It’s comforting.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Great question! I would take a cross-country tour to book stores, I’d float an elephant-shaped balloon as a publicity stunt, and I’d invest in a TV campaign.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

I have learned from hard experience that self-promotion is a must! I didn’t know much about marketing when I wrote my first books and although they had great information, they disappeared quickly from the bookshelves. This time around, my coauthor and I are doing everything we can to get the word out ourselves. Offline, we are doing radio shows, writing print articles, speaking, and working with the women we interviewed to get newspaper exposure. Online, we have a Web site; I am writing articles for great sites like Work It, Mom, which attracts many aspiring women entrepreneurs; I just did a teleseminar; and I’m doing this blog tour, which is lots of fun!

As an author, I am finding the Internet very empowering. You don’t have to sit and wait for a TV show to call – you can go out and connect with people very cost-effectively.
It allows you to be very proactive. Marketing is very labor intensive, but it’s also very rewarding. After working hard to write Birthing the Elephant and gathering so much inspiring, creative advice for women launchers, I want to reach as many women as I can with what I’ve learned. I know it can help them beat the odds and realize their dreams.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Keep writing! In writing Birthing the Elephant, I was much more disciplined than I had been in the past – and this really worked for me. I made it a habit to write at least two hours a day, with just one day off each week. I made steady progress and pushed forward through rough patches. Here’s one thing I learned: If you show up, the muse arrives!

On the publishing front, my advice is: be persistent. Believe that you have a voice that deserves to be heard and that you are worthy of being in print because you have something valuable to say. And just keep at it! Writing a great proposal is also key.
Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman is a very helpful book in this area.

Some parting words from Bobbi Brown in Birthing the Elephant: “If there are no doors open, then go find a window! Don’t take no for an answer.”

Where can readers find you on the web and buy your book?

They can go to to order the book or to bookstores.

Karin Abarbanel's virtual book tour has been brought to you by the fine folks of Pump Up Your Book Promotion and choreographed by Dorothy Thompson.

If you would like to leave a message for Karin, click here!

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