Six benefits for writers who appear on community access television

Group Photo Cropped

Several other writers and I, who contributed essays to the anthology, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, published by 2Leaf Press, were recently invited to appear on the Boston Neighborhood Network, a public access television station. The mission of BNN is to inform and empower those who live, work and study in Boston through distinct and diverse community media programming, education and services.

We writers were part of a panel discussion for the program, “Willie’s Web,” hosted by Willie Pleasant. Normally, before making a television appearance, I am nervous. In fact, there have been instances when I couldn’t sleep the night before. But before the BNN appearance, I was relaxed. Maybe it was because I met Willie a few weeks earlier at a book party and she put me at ease. Or it could have been because I convinced myself of the misconception that community access was nothing to feel anxious about because very few people watch.

Here are six things I learned from appearing on public access television:

  1. There was no pressure to be perfect. BNN is a learning tool for the community. Residents who volunteer are instructed on how to produce and direct television programming. They are provided with workshops and multimedia training. The production team is not scolded for small mistakes, which helps engender a relaxing atmosphere on the set.
  2. Effective training ground. If you’re unsure if you’d feel comfortable appearing on television, you can find out through appearing on public access television without concern that a massive audience is watching.
  3. Plenty of leveraging opportunities. Making an appearance on public access TV can bring a writer to the attention of commercial stations. Writers wanting to pitch themselves to other outlets will have a copy of the show they can share with news directors and assignment editors at other stations. Appearing on public access can also bring a writer to the attention of people in the local community who might like to invite the writer for a public talk or community event.
  4. Generous amount of time for the interview. Willie’s Web was an hour-long program, which allowed plenty of time for all of us to talk about our writing. Most commercial stations wouldn’t be able to program that amount of time for a panel of authors.
  5. Station is small but mighty. Once the show aired live, it was scheduled to re-air the following week. Then it would be designated a video on demand, which the public would have access to indefinitely.
  6. Hyper local. Public access stations have a very loyal fan base who love grassroots, unvarnished programming. You may not have a lot of people watching your appearance, but the ones who watch will really care.

Six tips for conducting a book party

o-sex-rulesAs I look forward to my novel being published in 2019, I think about the book party I’ll have—where I’ll host it, how I’ll get people to attend, ways to keep people invested in the party long enough for them to buy a copy of the book, possibly recommend it to others, and write a 5-star review for Amazon. I’ve concluded that the best ideas for approaching a book party come from attending the book parties of others. That’s what I had in mind when I recently attended the book launch of Janie Brodman, the author of Sex Rules: Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles around the World. Here are some of the tactics I learned:

  • Inform people of your book launch the old fashioned way.

Months before Janice’s book was published, she came to a Writer’s Night Out event I attended that was sponsored by the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union. She talked excitedly about her book, told us about her upcoming book party and exchanged business cards with us. At least two National Writers Union members (including me) attended.

  • Tap into your already existing network and fan base

Janice holds a PhD from a Harvard and taught at the Harvard Kennedy School and has been a PhD advisor at MIT. She hosted her book launch at the Harvard Coop, the campus store for the Harvard and MIT communities, a convenient location for her Harvard and MIT colleagues.

  • Choose a target-rich venue

The Harvard Coop is at a major intersection and within feet of a subway station. It not only gets high foot traffic from students, but the general public. Thirty minutes before the book party, a manager announced the event over the intercom. Then 15 minutes later he announced it again. Of the 75 people who made the trip to the third floor for the event, a number were most likely customers who happened to be in the store and heard the announcement.

  • Bread and Circus

Janice had a Harvard University jazz trio perform as the guests made their way to their folding chairs. I saw at least two senior citizens getting their groove on, doing a two-step to the music. For snacks, Janie supplied cheese and crackers, seltzer water and cookies.

  • Be gracious

Before she gave her reading, Janice came around to each and every one of us and thanked us for attending.

  • Employ soft-sell marketing

After she took questions, she told us that her agent told her to ask everyone to give the book a 5-star review on Amazon. That way, the request seemed to come from her demanding agent, and not her.

As I left the book party, I looked back at Janice. She has a line of about 25 people waiting to purchase her book and get her autograph, and I had some wonderful ideas tucked away for when it’s my turn.

The thrill of being in the audience at author readings is just as thrilling as being “onstage”

Porter group photo

Ever since moving to the Boston area 14 years ago, I’ve been a fan of Porter Square Books. An independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that supports independent presses, small book associations, and little-known authors, Porter Square Books has hosted a number of author readings and panel discussions that have drawn my interest. Whenever I attend an event there, I’m thrilled to sit in the audience and listen to authors give a reading or expound on their writing method. I’m practically giddy when I get to speak one-on-one with the author and get the author to autograph a copy of the book for me.

Now I’ve gotten a taste of how the author feels.

Porter Black Lives CoverRecently, three other writers and I gave a reading at Porter Square Books, co-sponsored by the National Writers Union Boston Chapter. We are all contributors to an anthology called Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives. I was concerned that very few people would come out to hear us since we are little-known writers. But through the publicity provided by the publisher, 2Leaf Press, and each of us presenters promoting the event through word-of-mouth, email, and social media, we got a decent turnout.

My husband says about 50 people showed up. The most heartwarming moment was afterwards when individuals came up to us with copies of the anthology they had just purchased. People actually stood in line to get my autograph on the book. They had big smiles on their faces. It was surreal.

 

 

I attended a Stephen King event, and he didn’t scare me one bit

KING

Imagine growing up in a household in which you didn’t have to do chores. No washing the dishes. No taking out the trash. No cleaning up after Fido. But the one thing your parents did require you to do was to read books. And not just to read them, but read them aloud and record what you read on cassette tapes. That was one of the childhood reminiscences that Owen King shared with an audience of hundreds in the sanctuary of Newton Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts. Sitting next to him on stage, his dad, Stephen King, the award-winning horror novelist, added some details.

“Yes. I employed him to read books on tape throughout high school, probably paid him 9, 10 dollars each.”

“He introduced me to things I would never have read,” Owen added.

Father and son made an appearance at the church as part of their book tour to promote their collaboration, the novel, Sleeping Beauties,  721-pages of fright: the story of what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men. I built biceps carrying a copy of the book home.

Cultivating an appreciation of reading through small monetary rewards is a thread that runs throughout the family’s history. Stephen told the audience that when he was growing up in Stratford, Connecticut, his mother would read to his brother and him whatever she was reading: Agatha Christie, Perry Mason books, Great Expectations, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

He said when his mother read him a scene in which the evil Mr. Hyde runs over a child in the street, realizes what he’s done and then runs over her again, crushing her bones, he was hooked.

“I said ‘Ooh!’ I want to do that,” he said to the laughter of the audience. His mother began paying him KING COVER25 cents a story as an incentive to keep writing. Most of his stories back then centered on animals. “That was my first pay check,” he said. “Every writer starts with a little bit of talent,” he added, “and hopefully you’ll find someone who will be supportive.” The elder King was supportive of his son’s writing efforts. Owen King has had a story collection and novel published. Stephen King says he didn’t hesitate in agreeing to write this latest work when his son suggested it. “My dad can’t go to a ball game and be at the urinal without someone sidling up to him and saying, ‘Hey! King! I’ve got an idea for a novel.’ “ said Owen, “So I knew I had to be serious about this idea.” The event was sponsored by Newtonville Books.

 

 

The literary community needs more professional football players like Devon Kennard

fOOTBALL 3I know nothing about professional football. I don’t understand how the game is played, never watch it on TV, except by default if I happen to attend a Super Bowl Game, and can count on one hand the current players whose names I recognize–this includes Tom Brady, quarterback for my hometown team. But I can now add Devon Kennard to the list. Kennard is a linebacker for the New York Giants. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. (Don’t ask me what that means.) He is also an avid reader. He conducted a book reading contest this summer that, according to the New York Times, has morphed into a dynamic book club. Kennard assigned the books The Alchemist and To Kill a Mockingbird. He re-read the books along with his online followers and came up with a list of questions that he thought would generate discussion. He was on target. He got a lot of response to his online book club FOOTBALLand robust conversation ensued. “I didn’t want to be supergeneric,” The Times quotes him as saying. “I didn’t want people to just look up SparkNotes for answers. I wanted to actually have them be able to relate it to their own lives and what it means to them.” Kennard responds to the fans of his book club. He sends autographed memorabilia to those who give deep, insightful responses to questions. What one fan said he appreciated even more than the signed t-shirt and photo was that Kennard prompted him to re-read the Harper Lee classic.

 

The ‘She shed,’ a refreshing development for women who want a space of their own

she-shed-artist-outside.jpg

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

This quote is from a 1929 essay by pioneering English writer Virginia Woolf. It is seen as a feminist text and an argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers in a field traditionally dominated by men.

Recently women in general have been embracing the idea of having a space of their own, not necessarily to write, but to get away from the housework, the kids, the spouse–a sanctuary, a vacation spot right in their own backyard.

According to a recent Boston Globe article, “A place of her own? Enter the ‘she shed,’ ” women of means are building sheds in their backyards replete with skylights and French doors and window boxes. Lowe’s Home Improvement Store is pushing she sheds on its website, books have been published on the topic, and there are shows on the FYI and HGTV channels about these tiny oases.

I’m happy for these women. If I had the money, I’d build a ‘she shed,’ a place where I could have some alone time, away from the housework and other distractions. A more realistic possibility for me is moving to a bigger place where I can have a den or additional bedroom that I can turn into my writing room. I’d install bookcases, bring back my best buddies–all of my Barbie dolls and other collectible dolls my husband insisted I put away when we got married– make myself a pot of hot tea, and do some writing.

Public housing complexes receive books from the National Book Foundation

nbf-logo-tagline

I became aware of the term “food desert,” some years ago when an effort got underway among some city council members in my hometown to bring a supermarket to a section of town that didn’t have one. A food desert exists when nutritious food is difficult to obtain due to availability, affordability, distance, or limited places to shop in a given area.

I have now learned of a new term—“book desert”—and am glad that the problem is being addressed. In order to bring more books to what they’re calling “book deserts,” the National Book Foundation, the US Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading are distributing over 270,000 books to public housing authorities throughout the country.

The Book Rich Environment Initiative will bring books to thirty-six different public housing authorities, including New York City Housing Authority, whose chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said, “Books are essential for children developing reading and writing skills that will last a lifetime. This collaborative effort will bring 50,000 new books into NYCHA homes and have an immeasurable impact on young residents who we know will fall in love with reading, one book at a time.”

Penguin Random House joined the initiative as lead publishing partner and promised 200,000 books, and Hachette Book Group and Macmillan Publishers have also made large commitments.

“This initiative is unique in its multi-organizational, collaborative approach to connecting young people with books and other literary experiences,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “National government agencies, non-profit organizations, local partners, and the publishing community have all leveraged their unique resources to create a model that’s far reaching, but also responsive to each local community’s needs. That’s what makes Book Rich Environments impactful.”

I say “Bravo!” to the National Book Foundation, the US Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading for launching this effort.

Exciting Publishing News! My novel has been accepted for publication!

Happy Book Illustration

I got the news in an email while my husband and I were driving back to The States from the Montreal Jazz festival in early July. A women’s press had accepted my manuscript. I was giddy. I started the manuscript in 2008 and completed the first draft in 2010. I’ve been sending it out to literary agents and some small presses ever since.

Going through the experience of trying to get a manuscript published has led me to believe that writing and submitting a novel for publication is one of the most humbling experiences a person can endure. The rejection over and over again can be soul killing. I thought about giving up along the way but didn’t. I’m glad I stuck with it.

So it’s official. I’ve signed the book contract. This has been my dream since childhood and I’m finally fulfilling it. The publication date is scheduled for 2019. Now the work begins of preparing the manuscript for publication–working with the press on revisions and edits so that the finished product is as enjoyable as possible for you, the reader. Every so often I’ll provide you with updates on what’s going on in this journey toward publication.

Women’s National Book Association Awards the WNBA Second Century Prize to Little Free Library

wnbaboston-2016

In November of 1917, a group of women booksellers gathered at Sherwood’s Bookstore in New York City to form an organization of women active in all aspects of the book world. Having been shut out of the all-male American
Booksellers Association and the Booksellers’ League, the women connected, educated, and advocated for themselves, and the Women’s National Book Association was born. I’ve been a member of both the Washington, D.C. and Boston chapters.

One of the signature programs of our Centennial  is the awarding of the WNBA
Second Century Prize, a $5,000 grant to an organization that supports the power of reading, past, present, and into the future. The one-time cash award will be given to the Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization that promotes reading for all ages, but especially children, by building free book exchanges.

Under the guidance of Second Century Prize co-chairs Mary Grey James and Susan Larson, nominations for the prize came from WNBA chapters throughout the country. A committee chose Little Free Library (LFL) based on its
grassroots organization, which has impacted thousands of readers of all ages and backgrounds. LFL embodies the goals of the Women’s National Book Association by promoting literacy and the love of reading.

Little Free Library was founded in Hudson, Wisconsin, by Todd Bol to honor his mother, a school teacher. In just eight years the organization has become an international movement of mini-libraries sharing the message of “give
one, take one.” LFL has over 50,000 libraries in 70+ countries with millions of books exchanged annually.

No longer known only for its charming small libraries placed in front yards and public spaces, it continuously develops new initiatives. The WNBA particularly applauds the LFL’s new Kids, Community, and Cops program,
which helps police departments set up book exchanges in their precincts —a commitment that resonates with the WNBA’s own National Reading Group Month program.

“This means so much,” said Todd Bol, creator and executive director of Little Free Library. “Little Free Library is about 90 percent women, so it really is a women’s movement, supporting friends and family and community.”

About the WNBA The WNBA is a 501c(3) organization that aims to connect, educate, advocate, and lead in the book world and broader literary community. We do this through networking and professional development, as well as public
programs including the WNBA Pannell Award, which promotes bookstores that excel in connecting kids with books; the WNBA Award, which honors visionary bookwomen, from Eleanor Roosevelt and Doris Kearns Goodwin to Ann Patchett and Amy King; and National Reading Group Month, which celebrates the joy of shared reading.

What it means to be chosen a finalist for the Still I Rise Micro-grant

STILL

Alternating Current, a boutique independent press, is dedicated to publishing and promoting literature that challenges readers. The press publishes diverse voices and all that is electric in the literary world. This year the press inaugurated the 2017 Still I Rise Micro-grant for Black and African American Women and Women-identified Writers. Out of 117 applicants, I was chosen a finalist from the writing sample I submitted. The judges said that they were thrilled with the quality of the work. Each time I gain a recognition such as this one, I’m encouraged to continue writing in spite of rejections I receive, to continue telling stories that I hope will resonate with the reader on some level.

Applications are now open for the 2018 grant.

 

What it means for me to be published in Black Lives Have Always Mattered anthology

Cover of BookThe first thing I did when I received my shipment of the anthology BLACK LIVES HAVE ALWAYS MATTERED: A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS, POEMS, AND PERSONAL NARRATIVES, was flip to page 109 to see my essay in print. The second thing I did was scan the table of contents, pick a couple of titles that sounded interesting, and sit down and read. I was riveted. I am proud to be part of this book that includes the work of so many great writers and thrilled to add my voice to the ongoing conversation about race in America.

The anthology, published by 2Leaf Press, covers an array of “hot-button” issues.

2Leaf Press is an imprint of the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS), a NY-based non-profit organization that is owned and operated by African Americans and Latinos who promote multicultural diversity.  BLACK LIVES HAVE ALWAYS MATTERED is the second book of 2Leaf Press’ series, 2LP EXPLORATIONS IN DIVERSITY.  The first book of the series, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? Was published in 2016, and the third book, THE BEIGING OF AMERICA is forthcoming.  The purpose of the series is to examine diversity, race and racism in America. It is hoped that these books of personal stories and experiences, honestly expressed perspectives, and viewpoints will help open a much needed dialogue about race.

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.