Advocate now for a narrative arts center

Grub Street Logo

A coalition of literary organizations have banded together to propose a multi-use literary and cultural hub in the Seaport District of Boston, a vibrant center for teens and adults from all backgrounds to tell their stories and experiences. This effort is led by Grub Street Writing Center. The proposal has gotten a boost from the Calderwood Charitable Foundation, should their plan be approved.

Heather Chicken Soup Book

Share your excitement for a Narrative Arts Center by advocating and spreading the word on social media. Use hashtag #BostonNarrativeCenter in your tweets. Here are sample tweets to consider:
Help make #BostonNarrativeCenter (ow.ly/u5x530jbmBw )—Boston’s first center for literary groups to create, perform, and collaborate—a reality. Let @marty_walsh know this is important to you! Other ways to advocate ow.ly/xcnB30jbmFR
GrubStreet, @masspoetry, & @HarvardBooks are setting out to build the City’s first narrative arts/storytelling center ow.ly/u5x530jbmBw Want to make #BostonNarrativeCenter a reality? Here are ways to advocate ow.ly/xcnB30jbmFR

Tweet Mayor Marty Walsh, @marty_walsh, to let him know you support a Narrative Arts Center in Boston.

A letter of support

Write a letter of support addressed to Boston Planning and Development Agency and 50 Liberty LLC. The letter should explain why you are personally supportive of this idea and talk about the impact GrubStreet has had on your life as a student, instructor, community partner, or writer or the impact you see in the city and even nationally. Letters can be sent to Alyssa Mazzarella at alyssa@grubstreet.org. Grub Street is collecting them to send over in a bundle

Calls and emails to the city officials

City Hall

If you live in Boston, call and/or email your city councilor and the members on the Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee: Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Timothy McCarthy, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim. Links to their emails are here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council
If you don’t live in Boston, please email or call the councilor members on the Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee: Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Timothy McCarthy, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim as well as the at-large city councilors. Links to their emails are here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council

The Office of Arts and Culture Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture julie.burros@boston.gov 617-635-3911

Mayor’s Office Marty Walsh mayor@boston.gov 617- 635-4500.

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.

 

 

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?

Writers: Here’s a ‘novel’ way to market your book

Book readers live an average of two years longer that those who don’t read at all. That’s the finding of a study out of Yale University. Researchers examined the reading habits of 3,635 people over the age of 50 and found that the ones who read up to 3 ½  hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow up. This was even after variables, such as health, education, and income, were taken into account.

It’s not clear why there’s the “reading advantage,” but researchers suggest delving into novels promotes cognitive processes, such as empathy and emotional intelligence, which can boost longevity.

So the next time you give a book talk, speech, or book launch use the line, “Read my novel. It could add years to your life!” It could make your book sales increase dramatically.

Why do I keep bumping into Andre Dubus?

He was sitting at one of those little two-seater tables, chatting with a friend in the lounge area of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center when I spotted him the other day—novelist and short story writer Andre Dubus, finalist for the National Book Award for House of Sand and Fog, which was later adapted for film and nominated for an Academy Award, Guggenheim Fellow, Oprah Book Club pick, and National Book Award finalist.

I instantly new it was him as I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I was passing by because of the hair. It’s distinctive: dark, soft waves with a swirl of grey at the center near the hairline that looked as if it could have been applied with a painter’s brush. He was sporting that rustic, Ralph Lauren look—the pointy cowboy boots, boot-cut jeans, open-collared shirt, dark, fitted blazer.

He stood up as I approached his table. I started to introduce myself, but I didn’t have to. “I know who you are.” He sounded ebullient. “You’re the novelist.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, relieved that I didn’t have to explain myself.

He shook my hand. “Do I owe you an email?” he continued.

My mind raced back to the times I tried to get in touch with him, when I sent him updates about my manuscript. “Yes,” I said. “You probably do owe me a few emails, but that’s okay.”

I had been hanging around the convention center, waiting for a friend who was in the exhibit hall at the American Library Association mid-winter meeting. I had no idea that Dubus was one of the speakers. Before we parted, I handed him a copy of the Christmas Moments anthology that features one of my stories.

The first time I met him was about eight years ago when the nonprofit I work for invited him in for our organization-wide book club meeting. He read from House of Sand and Fog. At the time, I’d been writing short stories and hoped to write a novel. I told him so when he signed my copy of his book. He wished me luck and inscribed the book with “Good luck with your writing.”

Then, a few years later, I attended an author event at Newton Free Library to listen to him read from his memoir, Townie. Afterward, he seemed delighted when I told him that I’d completed my MFA in creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University and mentioned that he knew novelist Diane Les Bequets, one of my mentors who was running the program. He encouraged me to keep writing.

A couple of years later, not long after I’d gotten married and finished revising my novel, I showed up at Newtonville Books with my husband. I could feel the energy in the bookstore as Dubus’s fans awaited his arrival. They filled most of the seats but left a few up front. My husband and I didn’t have much choice but to sit there, front and center, with the lectern not much more than a foot away.

Dubus walked in and after he was introduced, opened a page in his story collection, Dirty Love. He adjusted his glasses, and as he was about to open his mouth to read the first line, he looked up at me and said, “I know you. We met before.”

Later, he signed my book and we had a nice chat.

Why do I keep bumping into Andre Dubus? Sometimes it’s by accident. A couple of times it was planned. When I’ve been around him I’ve wished that his stature as a novelist and memoirist could somehow rub off on me, opening doors for me in the world of publishing. But, the more realistic part of me simply enjoys the delightful and inspirational moments I’ve had with one of my favorite authors.

‘Tis the Season to Reflect on Publishing Successes

I’ve been feeling a little down this holiday season. I spent the past year revising my unpublished novel, had a former co-worker who runs an editing service proofread and copyedit it and have been sending it out to agents. So far, I’ve gotten a few rejections, some advice for tweaking it, but no nibbles.

But I have to remind myself of the successes I’ve had this year. I was honored when the ladies of GBS-NCNW asked me to speak at their membership tea in September. I read “Short LISA PHOTO READINGDistance Romance,” about how I met my husband in the most unlikely place. The story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game.

Not long after that, I got some good news from the Editor of The Northwestern, my alumni magazine, that they would publish my essay, “Trust Yourself,” about volunteering at my church and my friendship with one of my little first graders.

As the holiday season got underway, I got good news again. And again. And again. Writer’s Digest magazine gave me an Writers Digesthonorable mention in its 84th annual writing competition. The mention was for an essay I wrote centering on a troubling medical diagnosis I received.

Grace Publishing, a publisher of Christian publications, accepted my essay, “Sunshine for Christmas,” and included it in it More Christmas Moments anthology.

Forgiveness Book ImageI had sent an essay I titled, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed,” to Inspire Christian Writers earlier in the year. Just in time for Christmas, Inspire Forgiveness was published, including my essay.

There was a time when I struggled to get short pieces published, but that’s beginning to change. I need to remind myself of this as I go through the process of seeking a literary agent to represent me.

Looking to promote your writing? Take a cue from Mariah Carey

Without fail, starting the day after Thanksgiving, until the end of the year I think of Mariah Carey. In fact, I can’t get her off my mind. It’s not because of her stunning five-octave voice or the ups and downs of her personal life. It’s because I can’t walk into a department store, supermarket, auto repair shop, or hair salon without hearing, All I Want for Christmas Is You. It becomes a continuous loop in my head that doesn’t come to a stop until New Year’s Day.

I do love the song. It’s one of my holiday favorites and because of it, I, along with thousands upon thousands of other people think of Mariah during the holiday season.

Good for Mariah.

Recording a holiday album is smart marketing for performers. It means that every holiday season, whether the artists have produced something during the year or not, the buying public will think of them. Keeping oneself in the minds of consumers is Christmas Moments Imageimportant for writers too. This holiday season, an essay I wrote, “Sunshine for Christmas,” was published in an anthology by Grace Publishing, More Christmas Moments. It’s a lovely collection of heartwarming stories. I am selling copies this year and plan to make them available at holiday craft fairs in the future.

Christmas stories, like Christmas songs, never get old. Getting published in anthologies that have a seasonal tie-in is a way that writers can maintain their profile with the public. Thanks for the tip, Mariah!

My reading at the ladies’ tea

LISA PHOTO READING

I spent Sunday afternoon with the ladies of the Greater Boston Section of NCNW. They held their annual membership tea at The Jonathan Belcher House in Randolph, Massachusetts, a lovely building on the National Register of Historic Places, which is GROUP SHOTavailable to the public for meetings, wedding receptions, birthday parties and other occasions. The ladies showcased my good friend Bithyah Israel, the founder of City Strings United, an organization that enriches the lives of young people through cello lessons. She sang a solo, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” They also had me read my story, “Short Distance Romance” from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. Greater Boston Section of NCNW is a voluntary nonprofit membership organization helping to improve the quality of life for women, their families and communities. One of the board members paid me a beautiful compliment after my reading. She said the reading was special because it was the first time she’d been read to since she was a child.

Tip for the self-published author: Throw a Birthday Party

MarylouMy book club recently read the biography, Walking In Her Shoes, self-published by Boston-area actress Marylou Depeiza. It is a family story in which a secret is being kept. In addition to us enjoying a page turner, we had the added bonus of having Marylou be our guest of honor for our book discussion. She shared with us one of the ways she was able to sell a large number of books at one time.

At one of her milestone birthdays, her children decided to host a party for her. In lieu of gifts, they had the guests purchase copies of her book. Marylou said she was able to sell hundreds that way.

How Writers Can Make the Most of National Reading Month

March is National Reading Month, when we celebrate the joy of reading. Schools all over the country are planning literacy-related activities to highlight reading in fun and unusual ways. Writers can celebrate the observance by reading to schoolchildren. Not only is this a meaningful avenue for volunteering, it provides some benefit to the writer. Here’s how you can make the most of it.

  • You’ll get to practice reading out loud: If you haven’t done a public reading in a while, reading a storybook to children will be a great warm up to reading your work before an audience.
  • You’ll get to practice public speaking: You can tell the kids about your love of reading and writing and your successes and challenges of getting published.
  • You’ll get new material for social networking posts and tweets: Reading to kids is an adventure. The conversations you’ll have with them during your reading could be interesting to your fans and followers.
  • You’ll attract new readers: The kids will likely go home and tell their parents that a “real author” came to their school that day. The adults might decide to Google you, find your web site or blog and start following you.

So let’s celebration National Reading Month. Let’s get reading and see where it takes us.