I dream of a quiet place completely free from distraction where I can take nature walks, rest, and work on my novel, essays, and other writings. One day I’ll get there, when I can take the time off from work and cover the cost. Meanwhile, here’s a list of writing residencies you may find of interest. Pictured above is a photo from the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont, one that I hope to attend in the future.
Book Review: What to Do Before Your Book Launch
I’ve never had a book direct me to put it down and take care of an important matter before continuing to read. That is, until I came across What to Do Before Your Book Launch. The guidebook for traditionally published authors was written by M.J. Rose, an internationally bestselling author of dozens of novels and internationally bestselling novelist Randy Susan Meyers, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions.
Seriously, I was reading the book and was told to put the book down THAT INSTANT and secure my domain name. I already had LisaBraxton.com—that’ the domain for this website—but I didn’t have “dot org” or the domain name that is the working title of my manuscript. I did what the book said, stopped what I was doing, and secured the other domain names.
The authors of What to Do outlined a number of other things writer need to take care of or at least be involved in because of changes going on in the publishing world.
They point out that 10,000 novels hit the shelves each year. The price of books has gone up 20%, while review space has declined 20-50%. Fewer magazines and television shows feature authors. Publishers can only support a very small percentage of the books they publish and more than half of debut authors never publish a second novel.
So what does an author do in light of these changes and shifts in the business of books and media? Take an active role in publicity and marketing of the book.
What to Do tells you how to build websites, gives pointers on taking a publicity shot and offers the pros and cons of blogging, producing a book trailer, and a newsletter.
What to Do Before Your Book Launch is a “must-read” for any writer looking to get a book published. It’s a quick read—only 88 pages—that can be referred to over and over again during the publication process.
What I learned onstage at the comedy club
I’m not a comedian. I don’t write jokes and I’m not especially funny. Yet, on a recent weeknight I was onstage before an audience of 150 people at Laugh Boston, one of Boston’s most popular comedy clubs. With a level of confidence that surprised me, I stood in front of the mike under the bright lights. As I spoke, I heard a few titters here and there, then some chuckles, then clusters of people actually laughing out loud.
I’d won over my audience. My confidence was building. What’s great about Laugh Boston is that you don’t have to be a standup comedian to get onstage. You just have to have a story that fits the designated theme and know how to tell it.
The Moth storytelling is held at Laugh Boston once a month. There’s probably a The Moth storytelling near you. Events are held in major cities all over the country and also in London, Dublin, Melbourne, and Sydney. Here’s how it works. Ten audience members per event get to come onstage and tell a 5 minute story. Then audience members who volunteer to evaluate the presentations, judge them.
In an earlier blog post, I stated that I thought The Moth offered a great opportunity for writers to practice before an audience, a “dress rehearsal” for when they would do an author reading. But I also discovered that The Moth offers writers the opportunity to find out whether what they’ve written has audience appeal.
When I was called onstage I told a story I had written in essay form for an online class I’m taking with Creative Nonfiction, out of Pittsburgh. The story is about how our cat, Savannah, bit my husband, and we considered getting rid of her. The essay is just under 3,000 words. For The Moth, I boiled the story down, emphasizing the dramatic parts and then back-filling with explanation before bringing the story back to the presents and its dramatic conclusion.
From the audience response, I knew that my story was relatable. People became emotionally invested in it. So, if you’ve got an essay or piece of creative nonfiction you’ve written and want to test it on an audience, come up with a storytelling version and get onstage at The Moth.
I Need a Support Group (and Maybe You Do Too!)
I was scanning the inbox of my Hotmail account the other day, sped down the ‘subject’ lines of my emails and made an abrupt stop when I saw the words I’d been waiting months to see: “2016 Nicholas Schaffner Award.” My pulse quickened. My palms got clammy. I steeled myself.
Months earlier, I’d submitted my manuscript to the Schaffner Award for Music and Literature. The contest rules specify that the award would be given to the writer of an unpublished manuscript who submits a literary work in the English language–fiction, poetry, nonfiction–that deals with the subject of music. I thought my unpublished novel, which features an African drummer and has him performing in the story, would no doubt bubble to the top of the entries.
Last month, I got an electronic newsletter from the publisher, Tim Schaffner, stating that entries came in from 22 states in all genres–poetry, short fiction, novels, memoirs. “Due to the last-minute deluge of manuscripts, we will need to extend our award winner announcement until the end of February,” the newsletter read. Twenty-two states? I tried to do a quick calculation on how many entries that would be, how many manuscripts I’d have to beat out to win.
But then I got the email the other day. I thought it was a little early to hear from the contest again since the end of February was still weeks away. I soon found out why it was early. I took a deep breath and opened the email. It didn’t have the announcement of the winner of the contest. It had the names of the six finalists and MY NAME WAS NOT AMONG THEM!!!
After I read the email, my husband found me in bed, which is uncharacteristic for me since it was only about 6:30 p.m. After my 9 to 5 I’m usually off to the gym for boxing class or indoor cycling with a little treadmill action and free weights topped off with 10-minutes on the rowing machine.
My husband sat down next to me on the bed. Our cat, Savannah, hopped on the bed too and took a seat. We are her entertainment.
“I’m so sorry about this, Lisa. I know it’s disappointing,” Alex said. What can I do to help?”
I had an idea. I bolted upright. “I know,” I said. “You can read my manuscript again. Maybe there’s something in the writing that I missed. Maybe one of the characters needs to be tweaked.”
He said nothing. But I was fairly sure one of his eyelids was beginning to twitch. He read all 345 pages of my novel a few months ago. Maybe he wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of spending a few more weeks with my characters all over again. Maybe he was thinking about all of the heated “discussions” we’d had about the point of view I had chosen, the colloquialisms I employed, or the voice of the male characters.
“Maybe you can join a writer’s group,” he said finally. “That way you can talk to people who are going through the same things you’re going through. It’ll kind of be like a support group.”
So here I am at the main branch library waiting for the start of a writer’s group I found on meetup.com. I’ve gotten some support already. One member of the group emailed me the name of a book designed to help writers not give up hope in the face of rejection. I’ve never been part of a writing group. I’ll let you know what I think in an upcoming blog post.
Enhance your public readings with THE MOTH
When my friend, Sue, asked me to join her buddies Rudy and Amy at THE MOTH story slam, held at Laugh Boston comedy venue this week, I didn’t hesitate. As a writer who tells stories, both fictional and true on the printed page, I was curious to see how stories are told in a story slam. Moth events are held in major cities around the country. There’s also THE MOTH radio hour at a station near you.
Here’s how it works. THE MOTH provides a theme for the evening’s event. When I attended, the theme was “dedication.” People sign up after they arrive to tell their stories. Only 10 are chosen per event. They are given 5 minutes to tell their story. If they go beyond 6 minutes, they must leave the stage. One of the organizers goes table-to-table asking people to volunteer as judges.
After we got our seats and ordered drinks, and the storytelling began, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the difference between telling a story and giving a reading. Storytelling is done without notes or pages of text so that we audience members could better connect with the speaker. The storytellers were animated, gesturing with their hands and arms, physically acting out portions of their stories. They changed pitch as they spoke, paused to let the audience laugh, and got emotional as they talked. They truly connected with the audience.
Participating in a story slam may not make for better writers, but could make writers, better speakers. So many writers just aren’t that comfortable in front of a microphone.
I picked up a few other tips. Wes Hazard, a local standup comedian, was picked to tell a story. His was about gastrointestinal problems that left him flat on his back in both a men’s and women’s bathroom in a comedy club venue. At the close of THE MOTH, there were clusters of people wanting to meet him and talk to him about his horrible experience. Wes was smart. He was armed with postcards with details of his upcoming comedy performances listed and his website. There’s no doubt that he used telling his story at THE MOTH to market his standup. Writers can use events like THE MOTH to increase their fan base and readership.
Sue, Amy, and I did our best to cheer on Rudy when he got on stage and told his story, which, in fact, captivated the audience. However, he didn’t get the top score from the judges. We couldn’t believe it. Some of THE MOTH staff told him as he left the stage that his story was the best. They didn’t agree with the judges. It reminds me of the responses I get from publications I send my stories to. I can get a bunch of rejections and then a publication will come along and the editor will say it’s just what she was looking for. It’s all so subjective.
Is National Novel Writing Month is big fat waste of time?
“Ready to write a novel? You’ve come to the right place.” So says the website for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo WriMo, as it is affectionately called. NaNo WriMo challenges people to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. But if you’re a novice writer and think that you’ll come up with 50,000 words of publishable prose, you’ll be in for a big disappointment.
I was sitting in my Query Lab class at Grub Street Writing Center in Boston a few months ago, getting instruction from a top New York literary agent on how to fine tune the query letter I had written in my effort to get some attention for my manuscript, when, with a weary look on her face, the agent said, “I dread getting NaNo WriMo manuscripts.”
Started 16 years ago, NaNo WriMo is said to empower diverse voices in the quest for creativity and publishing success. It also makes literary agents, like the one teaching my class, cringe. At the end of November into December, agents know your manuscripts are coming. They’re already bracing themselves for slap dash work full of clichés, thin plots and plastic characters.
Studies show that NaNo WriMo writers often ignore the website’s official advice about revising work before submitting it to an editor or agent. NaNo WriMo writers take VERY rough drafts and submit them expecting a favorable response.
The reality is that getting the attention of an agent or editor is hard enough after a writer has gotten extensive feedback from readers, instructors, and other writers and has repeatedly revised the manuscript until it is polished.
I’ve heard very few success stories coming out of NaNo WriMo. Very few of these “writers” end up getting the NaNo WriMo version of a manuscript published.
So see NaNo WriMo for what it is: a way for aspiring writers to develop a routine and build a community with other writers., not a way to get published.
Comfort in the Company of Strangers
I’m not the type of person who walks into a restaurant alone and sits down at a table with a group of strangers, but tonight, I made an exception. The occasion wasn’t one of those social networking-inspired group dinners in which unconnected people get together to make new friends. Nor was it a salon-style gathering where the affairs of the day are discussed.
It was the monthly meeting of the Boston chapter of the National Writers Union. I joined NWU a few months ago to make contacts. NWU provides many services, including consultations for writers about to sign a contract with a literary agent or publisher.
New to the organization, I figured I should attend some events to get acquainted with the membership. We met at Christopher’s, a casual dining restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A group of half a dozen writers at different stages of their careers sat around the table giving each other encouragement and tips on markets for getting work published. They welcomed me as soon as I arrived, interested to know what I was working on and enthusiastically discussing their own projects.
Every so often it’s good to step away from the laptop and meet with other writers who are going through similar experiences, dealing with rejection and trying to remain hopeful for publishing success.
My guest blog on Grub Street Daily has been posted
Every since I moved to the Boston area a little over 10 years ago, I’ve been affiliated with Grub Street, an innovative creative writing center. I’ve taken classes, participated in workshops, and attended author readings. Now I am a guest blogger. My first blog post on Grub Daily, Grub Street’s blog, was posted today. I’ve written about a group that’s provided me with encouragement over the years in my writing.
The return of the lady with the sharpened pencils in her quiver
I know it’s a cliché, but I’ll use it anyway. I’m shaking in my boots. About 10 months ago I sat down with the lady with the sharpened pencils in her quiver, S.W., the retired editor of a major academic publishing house, to hear her critique of my manuscript that I hope to one day soon turn into a novel.
Afterwards, I felt like Wile E. Coyote in one of those old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes with The Roadrunner, in which Wile E. is flattened by his own steamroller. Once I peeled myself off the floor and hosed down my manuscript I went to work revising it. I’ve been in “the bunker” for the past 10 months, rising before dawn, taking cat naps in the evening. My eyeballs have the texture of sandpaper on a good day. I recently returned the new version to S.W., confident she’d read it without finding any “speed bumps.” I put a star in magic marker on my calendar to mark the date I plan to start soliciting literary agents.
In my cockiness, I asked S.W. if we could meet at the tail end of an upcoming meeting of our monthly book club gathering. What was I thinking? In her private school headmistress voice, she responded, “My dear, you must think I only have a few corrections.”
My stomach began to roil. Now we’ve now come up with a date which will give us plenty of time for discussion. Since then, I’ve gotten another email from her. She said, “About your manuscript, Lisa, ‘Then’ is not a conjunction. Do you have a copy of Strunk and White? If not, you may borrow mine.”
Strunk and White? Didn’t I read that freshman year of college? Gulp!
I’m steeling myself for this next critique and dusting off the fire extinguisher in case I can’t stamp out the flames on my manuscript the old-fashioned way. Afterwards, it may be back to the bunker for me.
Why public speaking is so important to an author
Last week my husband and I gave a presentation at a lunch ‘n learn event at the university where he works. Lunch ‘n learn is a training or educational event held during the lunch hour. Our 60-minute presentation was on a topic he has been researching for years and one I find intriguing. I had several goals: to support my husband’s efforts, present information that would capture the attention of the audience and make them want to hear more, and practice my presentation skills. They will come in handy after I’ve landed that contract with a publisher, gotten my manuscript published, and embarked on an author tour.
I understand some authors are loath to speak in public, but public speaking can be critical to promoting your book. A great way to get practice is to volunteer to speak before audiences big and small on a topic you have expertise in. It doesn’t have to be about your yet-to-be published book. And while you’re at it, pass out those business cards or post cards you had made up with your blog address on them. You’ll begin to build an audience and drive traffic to your blog, helping to make yourself attractive prospective agents.
Why it’s so hard to get attention from Boston
Now that one of my stories, “Short Distance Romance,” has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game, I have become part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Inner Circle. I’m not making this up. The Inner Circle is a real thing. Much of it is top-secret, hush-hush, involving special communique’s, etcetera, but what I can reveal is that as part of the Inner Circle other writers who have contributed their work to Chicken Soup have tracked me down to congratulate me and coach me on how to get publicity for being published, critical to building an audience for the novel I’m writing.
One of those contributors is Melissa Halsey Caudill, of North Carolina. The title of her story in the volume is “Uncomfortable.” I’m not lying when I tell you that I had to pull out the Kleenex by the time I got to her last paragraph. Melissa has deservedly enjoyed a media bonanza in her corner of North Carolina. She’s been written about by two newspapers, made an appearance at two libraries, given a talk at a brew house, and has a book signing scheduled on Valentine’s Day at a dinner theater event hosted by the local arts council.
I have followed Melissa’s “playbook” for getting publicity, but so far in Boston–the big city just 20 minutes north of where I live–I’ve heard nothing but the sound of crickets. I don’t blame Boston. The City of Champions has been very good to me. I became president of the Women’s National Book Association Boston Chapter, met my literary heroes at author talks sponsored by the Boston Book Festival, and have attended a host of events at the Boston Public Library and local bookstores, featuring well-known and bestselling authors.
And that’s the problem. I live in an area that provides so many literary events and is home to so many writers, that getting published in Chicken Soup for the Soul garners, at the most, a mild yawn.
But the weekly newspaper that is published in my town, the Weymouth News, did a lovely feature article on me this week and gave my sister, Sylvia Braxton Lee, a photo credit for taking my picture to go along with the story.
Getting publicity in Boston is difficult, nearly impossible. It’s a competitive market. But I’ll keep writing and maybe one day Boston will notice me.
Planning a book party is a lot like planning a wedding
For the past year I’ve been planning my wedding, set for next month. I’ve booked the venue, hired the caterer, secured the gospel quartet. I’ve chosen party favors, and selected the menu. I can’t wait to see what the guests think of the duck confit spring rolls, chicken coq au vin, and strawberry cream cake. Last night I took a break from wedding planning and drove to Brookline Booksmith to attend the book launch of one of Boston’s most celebrated crime fiction writers, Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her latest novel, The Wrong Girl, has just been released by Forge Books.
It was a standing-room-only crowd. Champagne corks were popping. Guests crowded their small plates with hummus, fruit, and gourmet water crackers. The room was peppered with Boston literary luminaries and local television personalities. At least two professional photographers rubbernecked constantly to capture the scene.
As the emcee read Hank’s impressive bio, I noticed her standing a few feet away from me on the fringes of the crowd waiting for her cue. At the appointed time, to thunderous applause, she made her way up the center aisle to the podium. I’m sure some wondered how she stayed afloat on her black stilettos. I wondered why Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was playing in my head. It was in that moment that I realized something: planning a book launch is a lot like planning a wedding.
Launching a book is a major accomplishment so it deserves to be acknowledged. Plus, having a book party is a great way to get people to buy your book. Twenty minutes before Hank appeared, people were lined up at the register to purchase copies of The Wrong Girl.
During her presentation Hank said that after she finished writing her first novel, she thought she could relax. Soon she realized that her work was just beginning. A book launch requires time, energy, and creativity, much like a wedding. At times when I’ve projected ahead to when my own book is ready for launching I’ve felt overwhelmed at the prospect of planning a book party. Now I can exhale. As I finalize the menu for my wedding reception and confer with my fiancé on the table seating, I am comforted by the fact that planning a wedding has given me a test run for planning a book launch.