My book “Whats Wrong With Me?” has made the cut as one of the top Young Adult titles in the first annual IndieReader Discovery Awards! This contest is exclusively for independent publishers and self-publishers like myself, and my book received 4 out of 5 stars. Winners will be announced this Sunday at the Book Expo America, a large trade show in New York City. I’m excited and happy to be acknowledged!
This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Prizes include:
- One (1) autographed copy of What’s Wrong With Me?: A Girl’s Book of Lessons Learned, Inspiration and Advice (print and all ebook formats available)
- One (1) autographed copy of the What’s Wrong With Me? Reflections Journal (print only)
- One (1) “I D.A.R.E. You” multi-colored women’s baby tee on white (L or XL)
- One (1) “I D.A.R.E. You” messenger bag (gold on white)
Thought I Told You… All I Do is WIN
I’ve already achieved one of the goals I mentioned this year, which is to win a Toastmasters contest. I won the International Speech contest this week at one of my clubs (I’m currently an active member of three clubs). In order to win the title of Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, you have to win 5 levels of competition:
- Division (contestants come from several “Areas” of the state)
- District (during a banquet at the District Spring Conference for your local district)
- Finals (at the Annual Convention)
I’m really proud of this accomplishment because it’s a first for me, and a lot of hard work went into it since I started preparing for the contest 3 months ago. I applied several tips from a former World Champion of Public Speaking, studied pointers for this contest (including recommended speech topics), committed my speech to memory for the first time EVER (I didn’t memorize it word-for-word after I wrote it), and most importantly, I visualized winning. I pictured my “stage time” in my mind and saw myself giving the speech onstage. I saw people’s reactions and felt myself connecting with them. I practiced at home multiple times with and without notes, and I told myself I was going to win.
I will compete in another club contest next week and then advance to the next level competition, the “Area” contest. (I am what Toastmasters considers a “dual member” and am allowed to compete in multiple club contests, but can only compete in one Area contest.)
That’s my biggest news for this week. In other news, I have been doing well with keeping a daily quiet time with God. Normally in the morning I wake up with just enough time to check email and dash off somewhere, but I have rearranged my priorities this month to keep first things first. I believe that staying committed to this alone time with Him will be the key to my success.
Also, I’m still doing well with Lexi’s 6-month Weight Loss Challenge on my goal to losing 25 pounds, and I purchased a set of dance classes at a discount but I have yet to go :S I will do a more in-depth post on all that next week.
In the meantime, there are some tasks I’ve pushed to the backburner. Things I still need to do are:
- Move through the edits and rewrites on my book. I just paid the balance of my invoice, so the ball is in my court. Procrastination has reared its ugly head and I’ve been letting fear keep me from really digging in like I should. I have set a date to have all my rewrites, second round of edits done and sent to the publisher by Memorial Day. (It sounds like a long way off, but it’s not.)
- Re-load my savings account. I tapped into it pretty heavily in December for gift-giving, but at least I won’t have any credit card statements coming to me. I’ve also been consistently tithing, so I haven’t slacked there.
Are you making headway in some areas and slipping back in some, like me? Let me know how your goal-getting is going.
(For part 1 of this article, refer to this post.)
Racism in Publishing
Denene Millner has shifted from writing for adults to focusing on children’s books, citing her disgust with the publishing marketplace: “The industry for Black writers is so dead. We’re not being invited to write for the mainstream audience like those that write for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue.” Millner also thinks options for Black writers are limited in the industry. “Writing about the streets, people that crawled their way out of the ‘hood, dealing drugs, degradation, killing, and explicit sex? That’s not me. I don’t do street fiction. We’re being put in a box to just stick to writing about Black people and Black life. There are only a few exceptions—like Zadie Smith and Colton Whitehead—that are privileged to be able to write about other things.”
Karen Hunter readily admits the double standard that is pervasive in the publishing industry. “Publishing is racist,” Hunter says. “All books and authors are not treated the same. [Publishers] could lose money on Stephen King and still put their money behind him. [On the other hand, the late] E. Lynn Harris lost a deal with Random House even though he had 10 New York Times bestsellers! They made so much money off him. They don’t drop White people with a track record like that. They don’t even know they’re racist. It’s more insidious because it’s not even willful. It’s part of the fabric. It’s just the way it is.”
According to Hunter, most, if not all of the resistance boils down to the dominance of White executives at the publishing houses, not just the way it’s always been done. “Who’s sitting at the top and saying what’s good? Who are the editors? I don’t like when Black editors can only sign Black authors. Why? If you’re good, why does it matter? I’m one of the best in the business, and if you need a get a book done, you wanna talk to me.”
It’s Not A Black Or White Thing—It’s A Book Thing
Hunter also has frustrations with African American literary works being categorized into the ethnic genre instead of genres closer to a book’s topic, such as Self-help, Graphic novels, Relationships, or Fantasy. She says readers just want to read good books, and Black authors’ works should not be excluded or relegated to the African American section of a bookstore per se. “It’s not a Black thing. We don’t have to cater to a Black market. I want to deal with broader subjects. My books are for a mainstream audience.”
Hunter says the publishing industry is focusing on the wrong thing when they are marketing to the book-buying public. “It’s all about the story as a novel and a publisher and author. Books are books. A lot of kids are reading adult as well as YA books, whether they’re written by Anne Rice, Stephen King, or Judy Blume. Some adults read Harry Potter. There’s no such thing as a Black book. When you categorize a book that way, you miss the mark—people just want to read. If the content and the story are tight, the book will sell.”
Another issue when it comes to Black authors is that publishers tend to place the author’s work in a category based on their color, rather than the content of their book. “One author I know does vampire books, but she doesn’t just write Black books,” Hunter says. Her work should have been placed in the Sci-fi section because of its content, not because of her race. And when I did Why Men Fear Marriage, I argued [with he publisher] about getting it in the Self-help section, but they wanted it in the Black section because the author is Black.” Looking at a the smash success of Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, she says that his book “was number 1 in Australia because they care about content of book, not that he’s Black.”
Here are some tips for writers and aspiring authors:
Mitzi Miller: “Don’t wait to pitch the publications you want to write for. Take small assignments while you pitch where you want to publish. Stay in motion. The online boom helps because it makes it easier to land gigs and bigger pieces than a printed magazine, which has to pay for pages. Publishing your work online also makes it easier to quantify your popularity by page hits/views.”
Take pride in your work.
Millner: “When your copy sparkles and shines, it stands out, and that means there’s less fussing an editor has to do with it. Editors appreciate that, and it makes that freelancer worth their weight in gold. That person will get more work. But when you hand in crappy copy, that means more work for the editor, and the editor will think twice about assigning you more work.”
Build a platform and stand on it.
Millner: “You’re an idiot if you are a writer and don’t have a platform. You have to have a way for people to reach out to you. I blog on several sites, and each one exposes me to a new audience. You have to extend your brand if you want to make money as a writer. My Brown Baby [her blog] has over 1,000 subscribers, and it has become viral. You can use internet radio and blogs to gain email subscribers and amass a following. A platform is just smart business. If you don’t have a platform, people will not find you, and will not be able to show your reach.”
Stay the course.
Hunter: “You just want to write? [Getting to the] “Promised Land” of becoming an author takes time. It takes time to build an audience.”
Miller: “When you stop pitching, you become disinterested and doubt yourself, and you could walk away from your own dream. Just do a little bit every day, every week. Those small accomplishments create a momentum in your mind.”
Brooks: “I tell my authors to have faith and be focused. If you do those two things, your project will come through in terms of your writing and the deal.”
I recently announced that I was one of the top 100 winners of the Magazine Feature Writing category of the 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition. The entire competition consists of 10 categories and had over 12,300 entrants this year! Check out this post if you want to know a little more of the story behind the story.
I love to read, and I love to write, but because of the length of this winning article, I’m dividing it into two posts. Enjoy the first half, and come back tomorrow for the conclusion.
It’s been said that when White America sneezes, Black America catches a cold. It’s no different for the publishing world. Many writers of color are finding it difficult to publish their work the traditional way. The Multicultural Literature Advocacy Group (MLAG) created their annual Multicultural Literary Conference for this very reason. Dyahnne Alston, writer and founder of Sweetie’s Books/Sensations Publishing Company, says educators find it difficult to locate books for their classrooms written by writers of color and featuring children of color. Not to mention, writers of color that opted to self-publish could not get their self-published books into schools, libraries, and major bookstores.
The Publishing Landscape for Writers of Color
According to Regina Brooks, President of Serendipity LLC Literary Agency, African American national publications are not suffering more than mainstream-it’s just a shift in consciousness across the board. “Transition is happening and all of publishing is in trouble. The tangible feeling of books is shifting to online outlets.”
Author and journalist Mitzi Miller agrees. “Publishing as we know it is dying. People’s willingness to pay money for content that they can get online for free is waning. I love tangible work and being able to hold books, but the same information is available online instantly. If new issues of magazines could be put out every day, it might be a different story. Magazines like Clutch, Vain, and Honey are now only published online.“
Karen Hunter, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and CEO of Karen Hunter Media adds that many mainstream magazines, not just the Black ones, are going strictly online or going out of business. “Circulation is down because people are going online or using their Blackberry. Printed magazines can be a month or more behind breaking news. It’s not a racism thing.”
African American YA Market Considerations
Denene Millner is the author and co-author of 18 books including the bestselling Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (with Steve Harvey). She is very proud of her new, first children’s book, Miss You Mina (part of Scholastic’s Candy Apple series for tweens). Millner is the first to write about Mena, an African American girl, and “infuse our culture and history into a story for thousands of girls [of all colors] to see.”
“My dream is to become a really big children’s writer. I’m so over writing for
adults. I want to inspire kids to love reading. When you read, it opens your world, and allows you to daydream, to imagine, to see outside your corner of the world. It also teaches you how to write. My goal is to get kids to fall in love with the written word.”
“Memoirs aren’t selling. Relationship books are hard to sell without a platform. YA is the strongest market right now—it has increased 80% over the last two years, and publishing houses are hungry for new voices in the African American YA market, hoping that they can find new and innovative ways to market to African American youth,” she says.
Brooks’ first book, Never Finished, Never Done is part of a Scholastic’s “Just for You” series of 24 books featuring African American children. “We would have a lot more titles available for Black youth if there was more marketing and publicity for these projects,” she says. “If books don’t sell aggressively in the first few weeks, bookstores swap them out. But it’s different in the South. They have very few Waldenbooks, Barnes and Noble, or Borders stores. The Black community in the South buys books at Wal-Mart. For a YA title to sell, it has to have a celebrity drive behind it, or the publisher has to aggressively promote and market it.” She also echoes Alston’s sentiments about the scarcity of Black books for children and youth: “Access to Black titles is limited, and it takes more work to find those titles. Parents have to be more aggressive about book fairs, going online and other places where Black authors are promoting their work.”
Miller also shares concerns about the quality of YA books for African Americans. “We have more Black fiction available for our youth now, but the quality and range is lacking. We should have more opportunities to showcase different experiences that we currently have, which are mostly ghetto tales. I was proud of Hotlanta (co-authored with Millner) because it’s a story about twin teenage sisters who are well off, and positive. Whites AND Blacks are in the ‘hood. And there are many Black teens today who are privileged and know nothing about the ‘hood. I wish there was a greater representation of a wide array of experiences, like people with two-parent homes, and not on the streets.”
Support for Black Books
In mainstream publishing, every genre has titles available by Black authors. But what most often sells, according to Brooks, are history-themed books such as slave narratives. She also touts the library market as a strong market for children’s and YA books, as they use some of these books as part of the school curriculum. “But when it comes to Octavia Butler-style books such as mysteries,” she says, “people have to support the book when it first comes out, just like a movie. Bookstores will keep a title on the shelf if you support it.”
Brooks says another important factor that affects sales for Black books is the lack of Black bookstores. “10 years ago we had more Black bookstores. They would keep books on shelf longer and give us access to titles that weren’t readily available in mainstream stores. We’re a word of mouth community so it takes a little longer to promote a title, but mainstream booksellers don’t have that much patience.”
To Be Continued…
I just learned that I won an award for one of my entries in the Writer’s Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition! The top 100 winners in each of several categories will be named in the December 2010 issue, and I received 82nd place in the Magazine Feature Writing category. As someone who has never been published in a national magazine before, I’m feeling quite honored. I submitted entries in three different categories, but so did thousands of others.
I could not have written the article without a few accomplished (and busy) authors/publishers who didn’t hesitate to contribute their reflections and advice. To Regina Brooks, Karen Hunter, Mitzi Miller, and Denene Millner, I thank you so much for giving of your time so I could interview you in December 2009, not knowing where the article would turn up, or if it would ever see the light of day! I admire you all so much, and it was a great honor.
If I am allowed to, I will post the award-winning feature article on this blog before the year is out. Yay me!!!
I have a couple of friends who have what I refer to as “baby laptops.” I know–it’s a far cry from the correct term, netbook, but that’s just my way.
I want one. I need one. I was hoping a special someone could get me one as a lovely birthday gift in November, but I didn’t have a special someone (not that week–he bailed before my big day). Christmas came and went, too.
I got an email on Christmas Eve about the Mom Bloggers Club sweepstakes where you could win an HP Mini 110-1100 with Windows 7 Home Premium. All you have to do is blog about what you would do with it. I know how I would use the baby laptop.
I’m on the cusp of officially launching my writing and speaking website, Delivering A Rich, Empowering Experience so marketing my services and getting my name out there is a priority for me. I’d use the HP Mini to keep abreast of my subscriptions for freelancing jobs and capture leads, follow up with experts I need to interview, update my editorial calendar, check on writing contests, and schedule my non-work activities such as my daughter’s social life (she’s 6, lol), church activities, Toastmasters events, and speaking engagements.
I traveled a lot in the latter half of 2009, and I always brought my laptop with me. My only requirements of a hotel are a decent bed and free wi-fi so I can use my laptop to access mapquest and local information as well as manage my writing projects and use IM, Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch. I usually have a layover when I fly, and I use that waiting time to type up story ideas, watch videos, and read PDFs of newsletters and ebooks I’ve downloaded. The problem is, my laptop belongs to my company (I’m still employed as well as freelancing), and it’s pretty heavy even if I switch shoulders carrying it around on travel days. The HP Mini is just over 3 pounds–music to my ears.
The baby laptop would be really convenient to have while I’m out and about every day. As a writer, I record my thoughts, inspirations, and notes in a legal-size notebook that I try to remember to take with me everywhere I go. With the HP Mini, I could type up ideas whenever the mod strikes, and not have to worry about keeping track of papers lying all over my desk and floor, nor would I have to sort them later. (Now where were my notes on such-and-such? It was right here a second ago…) I sing in the choir at church, but sometimes we learn new song lyrics “on the fly.” Typing the words to a song on the HP Mini while I’m listening to it would be much faster and more efficient than writing them longhand.
I would use my baby laptop in the house as well. I keep my company laptop and PC upstairs, while my bedroom and living room are downstairs, so having the lightweight HP Mini would save me more than a few steps.
Do you have a netbook? How does it help you organize your life? If you don’t have one, could you see yourself simplifying your life by owning one? Mom Blogger’s Club will randomly give away three (3) HP Mini 110-1100 by Studio Tord Boontje PCs to readers who leave a comments on various entrants’ blog posts, so leave a comment here!