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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Publication news! My essay is featured in a new anthology

The Book of Hope Cover Image

My essay, “Praying on the Job,” has been published in The Book of Hope: 31 True Stories of People who didn’t Give Up. I hope my story, of the struggle of my husband and me during his period of unemployment, will inspire readers to persevere through difficulties.

Here is the description of the anthology on Amazon.com. “In this priceless collection of true stories experienced by everyday people, readers get to share in the angst, the grief, the frustration, and fears of the writers. This collection of 31 stories proves there is always hope no matter how negative our situation might be. Sometimes just knowing someone else has walked your path opens the doors and windows so new ideas and solutions can flow. This book can bring comfort, inspiration and guidance to those suffering from life’s challenges. These stories can help make walking such paths the adventures they can be.”

Holiday bazaars are a wonderful venue for writers

booksDuring the weekend, I was a vendor at the holiday bazaar at my church. I rented a table and sold copies of anthologies I’ve been published in: Finding Mr. Right, More Christmas Moments, Inspire Forgiveness, and a few other volumes that fall into the inspirational category.

The wife of the retired pastor came by my table and was surprised when I told her that I was selling the books for $10 apiece. She thought I’d charge much more.

But I didn’t want to sell them to make a profit. By selling them for the amount I had to pay to purchase them, I was able to keep the price reasonable and get my words of inspiration into the hands of more people. That was my primary interest, through my writing, giving hope to people who are facing challenges.

A secondary benefit was that participating as a vendor helped me build an audience. me-and-booksEven though I’ve been a member of that church for more than 12 years, at least half a dozen people walked up to me and expressed surprise, saying they didn’t know I was a writer. When I told them about my novel, several asked when it would be coming out. Whenever I do get it published, I’ll have a group of supporters ready to purchase it.

In addition, some of the shoppers told me about opportunities to be a vendor at other events, which could serve as a vehicle for getting a whole new audience interested in my work.

So, writers, the next time the holidays come around, look into becoming a vendor. It could raise your profile in ways you didn’t imagine.

Maybe self-publishing is the way to go

When I was invited to participate in yesterday’s Local Author Book Fair hosted by the Brookline Public Library in Brookline, Massachusetts, I had visions of readers standing in line, waiting to purchase copies of the anthologies that include my essays. Oh, how naïve I was! It didn’t turn out that way.

The weather was beautiful, sunny, in the mid 70s. We authors–about a half-dozen of us–set up our books on the tables we were assigned on the library lawn.

logodrdeedeesmI sold just three books, benefiting from the generosity of members of my church. The one author whose table got lots of attention was Dr. Oneeka Williams, a surgeon, and creator of the Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo series of children’s books. It seems that on nice Saturday afternoons, a lot of young moms and dads like to bring the kids to the library. The Dee Dee Dynamo table was, therefore, in a target-rich environment.

faint-promise-of-rainAs I introduced myself to the other exhibitors during the event, I began to realize that they all had one thing in common—they were all self-published. I’ve been hesitant to self-publish my novel. I figured that the reading world wouldn’t take me seriously. But after conversations with the two authors at the table next to me–Anjali Mitter Duva, author of Faint Promise of Rain, and Connie Hertzberg Mayo, author of The Island of Worthy Boys—I’m beginning to think about reconsidering.

the-island-of-worthy-boys

The artwork for both of their books is gorgeous. I understand that the company that published them did arrange a book tour. And even though they’ve had to do just about all of the marketing for their novels, in the current traditional publishing climate authors have to do much of the promotion and marketing themselves anyway.

So what do you think? Is self-publishing worth considering?

Anthology featuring my essay is now available on Amazon.com

Finding Mr. Right, an anthology featuring one of my essays, “Short Distance Romance,” is now available on the publisher’s website, as well as on amazon.com. It will be available on Kindle later in the year. Here’s the description of the book: Whether the quest for a soul mate is currently a work in progress or a happily done deal, this breezy beach read featuring the true stories of 20 accomplished authors will resonate with women of any age who have ever loved, lost and loved again.