A day of celebration for small presses

Pulitzer

The winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced this week. The prize for poetry goes to Tyehimba Jess for the book, Olio. The book is described as astoundingly innovative, combining poems, songs, historical facts, fiction, interviews and tables to create a chorus of compelling voices — all singing praises for the countless African American performers whose contributions to minstrel shows of the late 1800s have been largely undocumented.

The book was published by a small poetry press in Seattle–Wave Books, surprising to many on the book publishing industry. Small presses, or independent presses, as they are often called, make up about half of the book publishing industry market. Many focus on fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Since the profit margin can be thin, small presses can be narrowly focused and driven by other motivations, including reaching niches that mainstream publishers ignore.

Small presses are a potential outlet for novelists and writers of other genres to get published, but they are often overlooked in favor of the big publishers. Writers don’t support small presses as much as they should by purchasing the literature they produce. That’s a shame. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of editors and publishers at small presses while at the AWP Conference Bookfair in February and seek out publishing opportunities with them.

NewPages.com, a website of literary news and information, has an extensive list of small presses and calls for submission worth checking out.

 

 

Five things I learned at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Washington, D.C.

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With bestselling author Walter Mosley

Last week I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, better known as AWP. It is the largest literary conference in North America. This year it was held at the convention center in Washington, D.C., and hosted 550 events, 2,000 presenters and more than 800 presses, literary journals, and literary organizations from around the world at the book fair.

This was my third time attending the conference. I learn new things each time. Here are 5 things I learned this year.

  1. It’s a good idea to put your photo on your business card.

During a panel discussion titled, “Agents and Editors and Publishers, Oh My! Demistifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing,” an agent pointed out that she meets hundreds of eager writers at conferences who hand her business cards, but when she gets back home, she may not be able to match the business card with the person she met. A photo business card will likely jog her memory.

  1. It makes sense to smuggle your own food into the conference.

At a food stand set up in the center of the book expo in the convention center, I paid $10.00 for a medium-sized bowl of pineapple chicken and another $5.00 for a large bottle of diet coke. Talk about sticker shock! I got smart quickly. Since I was staying with my sister, who lives in the D.C. area, I was able to raid her refrigerator and pack a ham and cheese sandwich, some fruit, snacks and my own beverage. This cost me nothing and sis was happy that I helped to empty out her fridge.

  1. If you didn’t win the writing contest you entered, you can always apply again.

I’ve applied for several first-time author contests. None have named me the winner so far. Several of those independent presses and associations that sponsor the contests were represented by the publishers and editors at the AWP Book Fair. They told me to feel free to apply again because they use different judges every contest cycle. One press also told me that sometimes people apply the following year and win.

  1. If you’re not paying attention, you could miss a hidden treasure.

I was walking through the book fair near the back of the room where a small African American publisher I had talked to earlier in the day was located. The publisher remembered me and beckoned me over. He pointed to a man dressed in black, seated at the exhibit table, hunched over, checking his smart phone. It was the bestselling novelist and crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley. I’ve seen the movie starring Denzel Washington, based on his novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, and read one of his novels with members of my book club. It was thrilling to meet him. I asked him if he would take a picture with me and he said in his charming way, “Only if you’ll put your arm around me. Of course, I obliged.

  1. If you’re looking for an independent press to publish your manuscript, the book fair is the place to be.

I was eager to see the books of an independent press I was considering sending my manuscript to. I was horrified when I saw that the books are designed in square dimensions, not rectangular dimensions like most books. Stopping by the table of another press, I was able to quiz the representative about their efforts to market their books. I was able to hold the books and see the quality of the paper, design, and binding. Coincidentally, one of the authors was at the table, autographing copies of his novel, when I walked up. He told me all about his publishing experience with that press. I was impressed with their operation and walked away pleased.

Next year’s conference will be in Tampa, Florida. I’m not sure yet if I’ll attend, but if I do, I’m sure there’ll be lots of tips to pick up there too!

Why Hidden Figures” inspires me in my effort to get my novel published

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I recently went to the Showcase Cinema to see Hidden Figures, the phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. In addition to the women’s empowerment theme that I was looking forward to, I was interested in seeing the setting because the story took place in the city where I went to college, Hampton, Virginia.

The movie featured actress Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson. Known as “human computers,” they were among the brightest minds of their generation.

They were teaching math in the segregated south when they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II when America’s aeronautics industry washidden-figures-2nd-picture in dire need of expertise. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills. Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts. They were kept in the Langley Air Force Base all-black “West Computing” Group, and relegated to “colored only” bathrooms and couldn’t even pour themselves a cup of coffee from the same coffee pot, etc.. Yet, they had confidence and were assertive, playing critical roles in the space program.

I left the theater walking a little taller than when I entered and thinking about the challenges these women faced. The treatment they got from their peers and supervisors was sanctioned by society and the law. Since seeing the movie and reading the book, I’ve been sending out a revised version of my manuscript to literary agents.  At times it’s discouraging. Not that I am in anyway comparing the magnitude of the challenges they faced with mine, but I do I ask myself, “what would Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary do?” They would surely persevere. They wouldn’t give up. They would push on past the rejections, until they got the novel published.

 

 

I had a surprisingly good time at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference

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I’m not a mystery writer. I registered for Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference held at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, because two of my friends had planned to go—one who’s written a mystery novel and another who’s planning to work on one—and I wanted to spend time with them because I don’t see them very often. Their plans fell through and I thought about skipping it, but I had already paid the $100 registration.

Before the speakers arrived, I heard fascinating snippets of conversation from people around me in which they talked about the cozy mysteries they’ll have coming out in the fall, the deadlines they’re facing and the lure of procrastination.

During the keynote, conference host and novelist Amy Bloom (pictured left) interviewed award-winning detective novelist Laura Lippman.

Lippman talked about the importance of place in her novels. “I love books that have a strong sense of place,” she said. “Place to me is integral. I don’t understand stories where there is no place.”

Lippman’s “place” is Baltimore. She worked for a number of years at the Baltimore Sun, alongside her father, and talked about writing books that take place in Baltimore and the Baltimore suburbs.

She said she especially finds inspiration when writing stories that she sets in the suburbs. “I write dark stories there,” she said. “This reflects my thoughts about the suburbs.”

Mysterium is billed as a celebration of readers and writers, combining pleasure, instruction from writers, intellectual stimulation and great fun. This description is accurate. I thought I would feel out of place not only because I was alone, but because my writing focuses on general fiction, essays, and journalism—not mystery or crime writing. But once I took my seat at the keynote presentation, I felt at ease and the discussions were applicable to my own writing.

 

The results on my poll about self-publishing might surprise you

Last week on this blog I posed a question to find out if people thought that self-publishing was a viable option for getting published and getting a decent level of interest from readers. It turns out that most people responding to my poll don’t feel that self-publishing has the stigma that it once did and that maintaining creative control is an important benefit of self-publishing.

Poll Results

What would make you decide to self-publish your novel

Answer Votes Percent
The desire to maintain editorial and artistic control 40%  
The idea that self-published books are now as respected as traditionally published books 40%  
The desire to get the book published on a quicker timetable 20%  
Lack of interest from agents and/or publishers 0%  

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.

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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.

News from the editors of “Finding Mr. Right” anthology, featuring my essay

What do personality makeovers, church pews and Prince William have in common? Each of these elements figures into the true storylines of our top three essayists. First Place winner Karen Cole, Second Place winner Lisa Braxton, and Third Place winner Mehk Vijayaragavan took time for short interviews with the editors this week and their replies can be found at https://findingmrrightsite.wordpress.com/

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.