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.

26 Amazing Writing Residencies You Can Apply for

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.

If only I had one of those wireless activity wristbands for my writing routine

I’ve been into fitness for a long time. Over the years I’ve taken aerobics—both conventional and step—kickbox karate, indoor cycling, earned my diploma in ice skating from the Bay State Skating School, and played tennis and racquetball. So when my co-workers encouraged me to try the Fitbit® wireless activity band, I didn’t hesitate.

The Fitbit is a high-performance wristband that gives automatic, continuous heart Fitbit Charge Imagerate and activity tracking right on your wrist. You can see your heart rate all day and during workouts to get more accurate calorie burn, reach target workout intensity and maximize training time. It tracks steps, distance, floors climbed and sleep quality and syncs to a smartphone and computer so you can monitor your trends and get the motivation you need to push yourself further—every step, every beat, every day.

I have found that by merely wearing the Fitbit, I make more of an effort to reach my 10,000 steps a day, walking further at work to the copy machine and coffee break room. I now take the stairs when I could easily hop in the elevator.

If I had a Fitbit for writing, I could track my word count per day. Let’s say I established the goal of writing 750 words. I could check my Fitbit toward the end of the day and if I’m falling short of my goal, I could set aside time before going to bed to get my words in, similar to how I walk the corridors of my condo complex some late evenings to squeeze in more steps.

My co-workers and I participate in something called “Workweek Hustle.” We Trophysynchronize our Fitbits and participate in a contest to see who completes the most steps by the end of the week. The winner is bestowed a trophy (I’ve won it several times so far and have proudly pictured it here!). It’s a good-natured competition. No one takes it too seriously. (Did I mention that I’ve won it several times?) But it is a reminder that we are all in this together and if I want to surge ahead of my opponents and be the winner, then I need to push myself a little more.

In the “Fitbit for Writers” the Workweek Hustle would take the form of a writing group. A half dozen of us writers would sync our Fitbits, sharing our disappointments when our manuscripts are rejected, and cheering each other on when we have publishing successes. The “Fitbit for Writers” could encourage a friendly competition with my peers over daily word count, completion of stories, and number of manuscript submissions made to literary agents, literary presses, anthologies, and journals.

Fitbit has helped improve my workout routine and if the company decides to one day retool its product and create a writer’s version, it could help me get my unpublished manuscript on the bookstore shelves with the other novels. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that I need to push myself away from the computer and walk a couple of laps around the condo complex. My Fitbit is telling me that co-worker Karen is on my heels, only 450 steps behind me. And Amanda is about to pull into first place. We’ve been neck and neck for days. I’d better get to stepping!

Why perseverance pays off when trying to get published

At long last, my essay, “For Better, for Worse,” is being published. I say, “at long last,” because I submitted the essay to various publications for about two years and was giving up hope in finding a home for it when I heard from Whispering Angel Books.

Whispering Angel Books is dedicated to publishing uplifting and inspirational stories and poetry for its readers while donating a portion of its book sales to charities promoting physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

My essay, about finding out just after getting engaged that one of my kidneys was no longer functioning and how my then fiancé and now husband and I worked through the situation, is published in “Soul Survivors: From Trauma to Triumph,” a collection of inspiring personal essays and poems celebrating the resilience of the human spirit over pain, trauma and tragedy. A few weeks ago, the editor contacted me to show me a proof of my essay and check for accuracy my bio that will appear in the book.

The Whispering Angel website states about the collection: “These pieces, written by some of today’s most prolific writers, will touch your heart, soothe your soul, and restore your faith that you can overcome and survive life’s darkest moments, emerging with strength, courage, hope, tenacity and even beauty.” I feel honored that my essay is being included in this volume.

It took me longer than I anticipated to get the essay published, but I guess the waiting was important so that the essay could end up in the right home.

 

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 INSTANTBook Image 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.

Writing a novel calls for total immersion, sometimes with fruitful results

When I was a journalist in both newspapers and television, I embraced “immersion journalism,” reporting on a story by participating in it, immersing myself in the situations and the people involved.

As a result, I once climbed into firefighter turnout gear and crawled around on my stomach in a “smoky” building to search for victims using a thermal imaging camera, floated around in an icy pond until first responders threw me a rope and pulled me out, rode around with a state trooper stopping motorists for DWI one New Year’s Eve, and strapped on roller skates and took a few whirls for a story about a roller rink that had been in a community since the 1930s and was closing down.

I believe that immersion techniques also work well with novel writing. Author Heather Sellers writes about this in her book, Chapter after Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus you Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams. “If you don’t surround yourself with your book, you risk it creeping away from you—or you unintentionally creep away from it,” she says.

grilled_chicken240To avoid the drift that Sellers refers to and bring authenticity to my story, I recently borrowed from the library a copy of Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal, a cookbook written by restaurateur and Senegalese native Pierre Thiam. I was particularly interested in the recipe for Yassa Ginaar, grilled chicken with lime-onion sauce.

My unpublished novel features a Senegalese restaurant owner who makes delicious meals for the customers in the immigrant community where he lives. One of his specialties happens to be Yassa Ginaar. I thought it would be neat to prepare the recipe, just as my character would.

The recipe calls for juicing 10 limes and grating the zest from three of them. I never knew how hard it would be to peel limes. Their skin is very thin, far different from lemons. Also I had to cut up five onions, julienne style, something I had never done before.  I also had to get my hands on a habenero pepper, a tiny pepper that I had never seen before in the supermarket, but apparently has been there for quite some time.

After rubbing in the ingredients into the chicken I had to let it marinade for a few hours. Once I had my husband try it. I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong. The taste of lime was overpowering. I had miscalculated the proportions. The meal was a disaster. I tried to save it by soaking the food in cooked white rice (my husband’s idea) but the next day the dish was as sour as it was the first. However, the effort wasn’t a total loss. I gained an appreciation for what goes into Senegalese cooking, particularly in Yaasa Ginaar. I gained more of an appreciation for the restaurateur in my novel and the effort he takes to create savory meals or the public. I kept this in mind as I revised the scene in which he prepares this (usually) tasty dish.

Women’s National Book Association Boston chapter “Author’s Night” Puts Spotlight on Writers

On Thursday, May 5 at 7 p.m. five authors will have the opportunity to give short readings from their published works during “Author’s Night” at the Boston Public logo-with-color-behind-it-260x150Library. The event, to be held in the library’s Commonwealth Salon, is being hosted by the Boston Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. The event, which will showcase five members of the chapter, is free and open to the public.

Events like this, hosted across the country by writing centers, libraries, university creative writing programs, and writers unions and associations, give writers

  • A reason to step away momentarily from the isolation of the laptop
  • An avenue for introducing their work to the public
  • An opportunity to practice speaking before an audience

If you’re in the Boston area, and love the written word, check out the event May 5th. If you’re outside of Boston there’s bound to be a writing institution planning a similar kind of event.

I Need a Support Group (and Maybe You Do Too!)

I was scanning the inbox of my Hotmail account the other day, sMusical Noteped 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!!!Retreat Manuscript

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 Cat blogand 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.

The Sun magazine shines the spotlight on published essays

I was thrilled when my essay was published in the “Reader’s Write” section of The Sun Magazine last year in the June issue. The topic was “doors.” I just found out that there’s a women’s project being organized by a local community theater grouThe Sun Magazine Logop in Pennsylvania. The Sun magazine editors have asked for my permission to have my essay be among the ones included in the informal play audition to be held in a few weeks. This project provides not only acting roles for women but gives my essay exposure to a whole new audience. This is an unexpected, and welcomed benefit of getting my piece published.

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.