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.
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.
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.
To 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.
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 group 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.
My essay, Trust Yourself,” appears in the fall 2015 issue of Northwestern, the alumni magazine of Northwestern University. It’s about my friendship years ago, with one of my first grade Sunday School students. Since that period of time, that student, Qu’Amere, has done quite well. He’s now an adult. He graduated from college this year and has become a preschool teacher. We stay in contact. When I was back in my hometown, Bridgeport, Connecticut, over the Christmas holiday, he stopped in to say hello.
Because of technical problems, one of Lisa Allen’s email addresses does not forward to her Gmail account. After many phone calls and calling the host company for her website, the writer/photographer was able to do a temporary fix on her account. The inbox was packed with spam, but she was reluctant to do a “check all” and delete … just in case. She discovered an acceptance email from Rockport Publishers.
The book, “1000 FOOD ART & STYLING IDEAS” is a curated collection of photos, organized in categories such as color, global, indulge, chill and aerial, the chapter where you will find Lisa’s contribution. Artists were not paid for accepted submissions, but are offered a discount should they want to purchase the book directly from the publisher. However, a comprehensive index of the photographers and their contact information is included in the book. So you can be certain Lisa will be checking that web mail account more frequently!
Moral of the story? Establish a routine for checking extra email accounts! If you don’t mind bundling all of your correspondence into a single account, arrange for your author or artist website email to be forwarded to an account you visit daily.
Well folks, bookstore shelves are a little more full now that Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game, which includes my essay, “Short Distance Romance” on page 227, has arrived. At the Barnes and Noble nearest me, the Braintree, Massachusetts store, the book is in the self-help/relationship section nestled between 10,000 Ways to Say I Love You and 101 Quizzes for Couples.
In the table of contents you’ll find my essay in the “Never Too Late for Love” section. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that at first; It reminded me of not only my age, but how long it took me to find my guy, but now I’m feeling more comfortable with the reference.
My good friend Sandra Briggs, who’s in town from Atlanta met up with me at B and N Braintree for some girl talk and to celebrate my part in Chicken Soup’s latest publication. We made a toast to future publishing endeavors over skinny peppermint mocha latte’s and hot chocolate. I had shown Sandra the essay long before I submitted it to Chicken Soup, when it was just a Word document. To refresh her memory she reread it while we were at Barnes and Noble, chuckling at different parts and beaming when she got to the end.
The Chicken Soup people tell me that the “contributors,” as we writers are called, make public appearances all over the country, doing book signings and talks at bookstores, libraries, and civic group events. I understand that the new volume will get a lot of attention around Valentine’s Day. I’ve told them I’d be happy to hit the literary circuit. If they schedule me for events, I’ll let you know.
Looking back at my term as president of the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), I have to say that Hank Phillippi Ryan, investigative television reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate station and author of Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time, and three other books, including a new one due out in September, is one of the most generous authors I know. The award-winning crime fiction novelist took time out of her busy schedule to be the keynote speaker at one of our annual year-end dinner banquets. Before an audience of about 30 members and guests in the private dining area of one of Boston’s upscale hotels, she regaled us with stories of how she began writing her first novel. She talked about the long hours in front of the computer screen after her shifts at the TV station, the social events she skipped to carve out time to work on the book, the reams of paper she went through as she revised what she had written. I’m sure she doesn’t know this but her methods provide me with guidance as I work on my own book project. However there was one tactic she told us about that I would feel uncomfortable using: she had her husband read her raw manuscript pages and give her feedback.
I cannot imagine having my fiancé read my manuscript, not a chapter, section, or paragraph. He is also a writer, a very good one, with a background in journalism, like me. I know that he could provide me with insight that would be helpful in polishing the story. However, because my manuscript is so personal, has been a part of my life for more than five years, and because he is so close to me, he is the one person I won’t let read it. I plan to show it to him after it’s published, after it’s been edited, bound, and printed, but not before. Does anyone else feel this way? How do you feel sharing your work in progress with a significant other, whether it’s a writing project, work project, or other personal creative venture? I’d love to hear from you.
Several years ago I was introduced to S.W., one of my mother’s high school classmates. We’ve been friends ever since. S.W. and I enjoy going to classical music concerts, movies at independent theaters, museums, and dinners at ethnic restaurants.
S.W. and I have made plans to get together in the near future. However, as the date grows near, I am filled with such trepidation that I think about postponing the meeting or canceling it altogether, not because of anything personally involving S.W., but because of something she has in her possession: a copy of the latest revision of my manuscript. S.W. is not only a friend, but a retired editor at one of the country’s top educational and general interest publishing houses. Her ability to shepherd a project from raw manuscript to award-winning literary treasure is legendary.
S.W. didn’t put her sharpened Ticonderoga Number 2’s back in the pencil case when she retired. The woman whips through the New York Times crossword puzzle before her first cup of morning coffee has cooled. She’s been known to call television news reporters on the phone and scold them because they misplaced a modifier during a live report. And those reporters thank her profusely for doing so.
Two years ago I handed S.W. my manuscript and when I got it back it was covered in so much red ink and post-it notes that I thought I’d need a defibrillator to bring my story’s characters back to life. After spending a month decompressing, I read through her edits, which I largely agreed with, and went back to work, confident that I could make the story much better. Now that I’ve handed it back to her again, I feel ill at the prospect of seeing her for our meeting. Who knows what she’ll do? Maybe I’ll need a fire extinguisher to hose the pages down. But it’ll be okay. I value her skills. S.W.’s level of editing is exactly what I need.