I’ll have an omelet with that bestseller

The bookstore as we know it is on its deathbed. That’s what I’ve been hearing for the past decade or so. Financial pressure and competition from online retailers, including Amazon (which has made a surprising pivot with plans for a growing constellation of bookstores) have led to the shutdown of Waldenbooks, Borders, some Barnes and Noble bookstores as well as many independent shops.

Bins of Music and CustomersBut the bookstore itself isn’t dying, just the business model. Proprietors who are trying creative approaches are finding that the bookstore is not only alive and well but thriving. I visited one example with my friend, Lisa Allen, on a recent Saturday—Tres Gatos, Boston’s first, full-service combo restaurant/ bookstore/music store. It’s in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, a hip, artsy, intellectually vibrant neighborhood. Tres Gatos uses a hybrid business model, a full-service restaurant in the front, music store—featuring classic vinyl—and bookstore in the back. Lisa and I feasted on tapas, gambas all I prebre, freshwater farmed shrimp sautéed in a rich and complex sauce, and sweet potato pancakes topped with whipped fennel chili butter. Then we headed to the music and bookstore. Store manager Phil Wilcox told us that he orders book, including bestsellers, from the second biggest book distributor in the country and gets inventory every three or four days. He receives vinyl inventory every four orShelves of Books and CDs five days and says turnover is good for both books and music. The businesses help each other. Customers who come in looking for classic albums will peruse the shelves of books. When the restaurant business gets light during the cold weather months, the book business picks up. Before I left Tres Gatos, Wilcox had sold me a CD, “Senegal 70,” West African Latin jazz urban orchestra music that I can’t imagine I could have found elsewhere.

If Tres Gatos offers any indication, the future of books in a retail environment looks good if niche marketing is put to use effectively.

7 Common mistakes to avoid when writing a personal essay

I have been writing personal essays for the past 10 years or so and have suffered through rejections, but have had quite a few successes. Most of what I’ve written has eventually gotten published. Based on my experiences I’ve come up with a list of common mistakes writers should avoid when trying to get a personal essay published.

  1. Not changing your strategy when an essay is rejected

I wrote an essay about how I met my husband, who sat quietly three pews behind me in church for years until he got the nerve to approach me, and thought it was the perfect piece for the “Modern Love” column in The New York Times. About a month after submitting it, I got the standard rejection e-mail. (At the time, I didn’t know that “Modern Love” receives thousands of submissions a year. Only 52 are published.) I shortened the essay and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it was accepted. Later, an inspirational literary journal, Finding Mr. Right, published the essay too. I’m glad I didn’t give up after The New York Times rejection.

  1. Starting too slowly

It seems practical to start an essay in chronological order, or to set the scene through exposition, but that might not be the most interesting approach. Consider beginning the essay in the middle of the story with action or compelling dialogue. Here’s an example:

“I wish all the black people would go back to Africa.”

With those words, my idyllic world was shattered. My innocence was lost.

That’s how I began my essay, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed,” with a quote from one of my elementary school classmates. The essay is about my first encounter with racism. The essay is published in Black Lives Have Always Mattered, A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives.

  1. Holding back

If you play it safe and keep your essay on the surface, you may not be giving your reader something to grab onto, something he or she can identify with. When I wrote my essay, “Praying on the Job,” which was published in an inspirational anthology called The Book of Hope I went into some detail about how my husband’s job loss affected not only our financial situation, but our marriage. It was painful to dig deep, but also cathartic, and something readers could relate to.

  1. Writing a diary entry

A personal essay is more than a running log of what’s transpired in your life during a certain period of time. That won’t keep the reader’s interest. You also don’t want to use the essay format as an opportunity to vent. Be sure to provide a universal truth, so that the reader is given something to reflect on.

  1. Taking a trip to nowhere

A good essay, like a piece of good fiction, takes the reader on a journey. You, the writer are in a different place by the end of your essay. In “Trust Yourself,” which I had published in The Northwestern Magazine, I began as an insecure Sunday school teacher to first and second graders, but through a friendship with one of my little students, I developed confidence that the kids were benefiting from my being their teacher.

  1. Writing large

You may have a lot to say, but you may want to bite off only a chunk at a time. A personal essay is not a biography. It is not all encompassing, covering decades of your life. It is actually a snapshot in time. Choose focused events to make a larger point.

  1. Thinking that you don’t need feedback

I have my sister read over just about every essay I write. If there is something unclear or confusing, she lets me know. Feedback is critical. After I’ve written an essay and revised it more than a dozen times, there could be problems with it that I just can’t see anymore because I’m too close to what I’ve written.

By avoiding these and other pitfalls, you could be further on your way to producing essays you be proud of while at the same time, increasing your rate of publishing acceptance.

Writers could take a cue from The Poetry Fox

When I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference a few months ago, I didn’t expect to encounter a furry creature with a tale at the book expo, banging away at the keys of a manual typewriter. I also didn’t know that he had a cult following.

The Poetry Fox has been making the rounds of literary festivals, conference, and art shows. Give him a word and in a jiffy, he’ll write a poem, stamp it, sign it, read it, and then give it to you.

I don’t know his motivation, but he is getting the general public interested in the literary world. There is something refreshing about street poetry, where poets create works on the spot. Could writers take a cue from The Poetry Fox and create snappy short stories on the spot for the public?

 

My essay is featured on the new Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast and how writers can raise their profile by having a podcast

Chicken

The editors at Chicken Soup for the Soul have informed me that they have just started a series of inspirational podcasts to promote their books. Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark, will discuss a different Chicken Soup for the Soul book each day and highlight one story that appears in that book.

My essay, “Short Distance Romance,” which was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game has been chosen to play a role. My story is on the website now under “Wow Wednesday,” and will continue to be available on the Podbean app—which is available for free from the app store—once it airs. It was neat hearing Ms. Newmark talk about me and my story. The podcasts are six or seven minutes long and provide entertaining stories as well as great advice and easy-to-implement tips for improving your life.

For writers, podcasting is fast becoming another medium for storytelling and bringing attention to published works. It can drive traffic to your website. There is tremendous power in being in a listener’s ear as well as before their eyes with the written word. It is also a way to introduce your writing to people who aren’t avid readers. They can listen to you while they’re driving, exercising, doing housework. They can listen to you while they’re multitasking.

We’ve all heard that creating videos is important for writers to grow their online presence—book trailers and author interviews are examples. For writers who don’t feel comfortable on camera, podcasting can be the right avenue. I understand that podcasting equipment is affordable and simple to use. The newer line of USB microphones and software are inexpensive.

Podcasting does require content production and a commitment of time in order to be successful. For writers, it could be worth pursuing.