What It Look Like? Seeing Ourselves (?) in Literature

I’ve gotten comments from those who have read The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles) about how they like the fact that I’ve written my characters in a way that their race wasn’t obvious; in fact, one can insert any race, ethnicity, or combination thereof, and it wouldn’t detract from the story.

That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish, and it’s good that I’ve accomplished that goal.

I’ve always said that I consider myself an author who happens to be black, rather than a black author (oh, wait…you didn’t know I was black? LOL I personally don’t use the term African American, but that’s another post for another day, and on a different forum. But I digress.). When I was jonesing for a contract with a major publishing house, over a decade ago, one of the more discouraging comments I heard during my rejection process was that “the  numbers show that black people didn’t read” the thriller/suspense novel my then-literary agent was shopping around. I resented the fact that my book would only marketed to black people, when my story was beyond that. No disrespect to my people, but my goal as a writer was not to limit my writing based on race and/or ethnicity. This is further compacted by the assumption that every black author writes a “black” book (whatever that means, although it’s usually code for either an urban/street fiction novel, a church-based book, or a sistagirl novel a la Terry McMillan–which is what “the numbers” *rolling eyes* allegedly show that these are the books that black people only read). I was hesitant to put my picture on the cover because I didn’t want potential readers to see it and think, “Oh, this is a black book, and I’m not black, so I probably shouldn’t read it as I wouldn’t understand it, or I probably wouldn’t see  myself in the story–literally and figuratively.” But I also didn’t want someone else showing up and passing themselves off as me, so…the pic stayed. 😀

That sentiment had a large part in the cover design as well. I’d originally thought of something along the lines of what is normally seen on a romance book cover–namely, two people who may or may not be in the throes of passion, significant looks, etc.  The wonderful graphic artist who ended up doing my cover, John of AdLib Design, mentioned that as a reader, he liked to form his own opinion on how a character looked (or not) based on how s/he was described in the context of the story. To that end, we agreed on using symbolism instead of people on the cover. The feedback on the cover has been very positive, so I’m going to continue the symbolism going forward in the rest of the series. Which is cool, because I have to make sure that each book has a symbol-friendly hook to it, usually in the guise of a significant hobby or activity.

A good story is a good story. I like Maeve Binchy novels, but I am not white, and I have never set foot in Ireland. Her stories, though, are touching and I relate to them. I hope that other readers are willing to give me the same benefit of the doubt and at least try what I’m offering. I’m not saying my writing will transcend race (which is a phrase that irritates me, BTW), but will at least form a common ground for my readers.

Thanks for stopping by.

Scared Money Don’t Make Money: Investing In Your Writing Future

This blog was inspired by a recent conversation with a potential publishing client. During our initial phone conversation, when she described what she needed to bring her book to fruition (and it was a lot :/), she made a comment that she was looking for someone to work with her so that both parties can succeed together. Or, to use a more descriptive phrase, she wanted one hand to wash the other, and both hands to wash the face. To put it more plainly, she didn’t have a lot of money and wanted stuff done for free, in exchange for a future cut of royalties.  In short, she wanted to allocate her funds to areas where she thought they were better served, and things like editing and book layout weren’t among them.

When I was a full-time editor, I noticed that a lot of my self-published clients cut corners in order to get their book out into the public eye. As I may have mentioned before, self-publishers don’t have the luxury of an advance upon which to fall back. Sure, we reap all of the benefits but before that happens, we have to pay all of the costs up front. Self-publishing has indeed gotten easier, and in some ways less expensive, but there are still costs involved. It’s tempting for independently published authors to skimp in certain areas in order to have the funds for what is deemed most important: the final product, the book, that commodity that is to be sold.

This is not the move.

I learned the hard way that when I cut corners, it came back to bite me in the assets (literally and figuratively). I’ve also seen this play out in the literary lives of others. The main place I see skrimping is in three areas: professional editing; website; and book covers.

Professional editing is more than making sure every word is spelled correctly. Yes, grammatical and typographical errors are addressed, but so are story flow, fact checking, punctuation, etc. An editor will go through your manuscript, line by line, and find out what is wrong, and tell you how to fix it; this is called content or line editing. The process is rather involved and time-consuming, and most professional editors have some professional training: certification by a reputable body and/or  valid industry experience. Your high school cousin who got straight As in English isn’t going to have the requisite training to polish your gem of a book; reading a book on self-editing isn’t going to get you what you need either, especially if you don’t think that anything is wrong with your work (which is a failing of many authors; we are too close to our “babies” to notice anything wrong).  i strongly urge writerss to holler at Evette Porter, who is a dynamic editor and will get your book public-worthy.

Next up: websites. There are a whole lot of “free” websites out here, that are more on the do-it-yourself (DIY) tip. Weebly and Wix are just two popular services that offer people the chance to establish a web presence for free. I can see why they get a lot of business, when a professionally designed website can run at least $1,000 (and usually around $2,000 and up, depending upon how many bells and whistles you’d like).  Again, you get what you pay for. Now here’s a caveat: I have seen one author’s site, done by Wix, and it looked pretty decent. This is more the exception, and not the rule. Websites are how the world sees you, before they even buy your book, so make it count. You don’t necessarily need a Flash intro, music in the background (unless you are a musical artist), lots of video, etc. But you do have to make people want to stop by your site and hang around for a while. Also, in this age of social media, connection through various platforms is key for helping get the word out about your project. Don’t forget e-commerce, if you are selling your book through avenues other than Amazon or Barnes & Nobles (Nook). To include all these things, It’s usually best to let a professional handle it (I recommend Cix Designs. Ask for Micah.). If you really want to make your presence known on the cheap, then start a blog.

“Cheap” is a word that should not be used when pursuing your publishing dream (or anywhere else, for that matter); this goes double for book covers. Your book cover is your calling card; it needs to make people want to pick up your book and want to take it home (please note that a good book cover is worth nothing if the content of your book is not up to par). I strongly suggest that authors avoid the free covers offered via publishing packagers; they are deliberately terrible in order to encourage you to spend more money to hire designers to do a custom cover. Since this is the case, why not just hire a graphic designer off the break? A good designer will not only have experience in doing covers (both e-book and physical book), but will also align your covers with your book visions and growth. Two folks to check out are Ad-Lib Designs (ask for John) and The Little Orange (ask for Diana).

Investing in yourself, your business, and your brand are extremely important. As a self-publisher, you are all three, so act like it. If you want people to take you seriously, then you must first take yourself seriously. You have to figure out if you are an author who has a day gig, or a ____ who does writing on the side. The answer you choose will determine the trajectory of your success, since we put our energies into those things which we most value. If you don’t value  yourself and your work, and how both are presented to the public, then no one else will.

Thanks for stopping by.