Beginning with Black Issues Book Review to The Celebration of Books at The Atlanta Daily World and most recently with Written, I have meet many wonderful people and had great experiences and learned more than any of the classrooms I sat in. Here is where I share those experiences with you. I hope they enlighten you too.
Five things all first time published authors should know
As a lifelong reader, there is nothing more exciting than opening a book, reading it from cover to cover, and then running to tell everyone about it. I met Mary Morrison, Travis Hunter, Solomon Jones, Erica Turnipseed, Victoria Christopher Murray, Matthew Aaron Goodman, Edward P. Jones, Renee Daniel Flagler and Karen Quinones Miller, just to name a few, as they published their first words and I have been cheering for them every since. Here are a few things that they did to help them with their success, that will hopefully help you.
Please don't call yourself "best-selling" author.
Nothing makes me more proud than to discover an emerging writer. I cannot think of anyone who is on my side of the business that does not feel the same way. "Name it and Claim it" does not necessarily work in this industry. It is important to accurately represent yourself. It gives us an opportunity to know that you are still growing in the business. We are less forgiving of mistakes to authors who are suppose to be "bestsellers" and you should be proud of the accomplishment of publishing your first book. Saying first time novelist or emerging author in your title takes nothing away. I'm always anxious to help someone who is open to learning how he or she can be great but I am deeply turned off by authors whose claim puts them on a shelf of "should have known better".
2. Covers count! I can never say enough about covers. They sell your book when you are not around to do it. Please learn the books of your drama and how they are presented to your audience. Your picture may not be the best representation to your audience. But half naked people, guns, drugs etc will limit your mainstream exposure. I remember seeing the cover of Zane's Addicted and was so intrigued by the ambiguity that I eagerly open the book. Work with a professional to create your cover art. It will be pricey but it's worth it. They can keep you clear of copyright and trademark infringements. They also are aware that books are stacked differently in bookstores than they are on shelves. If you refer to call your book, your baby, be sure to dress her up pretty before you let her go meet the world.
3. Build an audience, then build a brand. There are so many people that are telling authors to build a brand but they should be telling them to have something to say first. Understanding your voice helps you understand your audience. If you build a brand without this clarity, you can waste time and money creating a brand that will not translate into money. I know several authors who release words on their Facebook page and watch as people like and share their post. Our Phill Branch had a Facebook post turn into an article by a Baltimore media outlet, which caught the eye of an agent. When he met with her, she was clear on his point of view and how to pitch his work and to whom. Brands are important, but audiences mean dollars.
4. Learn how to sell your book, not just pitch it. The art of selling is exactly that - an art. I have watched authors struggle in front of audiences by not knowing the art of selling. Your 60 second pitch works in elevators and in large fairs, but how do you get $12-$25 out of someone's wallet without asking for it? That is the art of selling. 5. You can never take back your first words. I have said this before but it needs to be said again. When you release your book - that is it. You have published it. There is no going back for revisions or do overs. The book is out there in the world to be enjoyed or criticized. Anything you do to the book after that first release is a second publishing. It will need to be explained. It is expense. It looses credibility with your readers. We expect authors to grow with their talent and creativity, not spend the next few years trying to get the first book right. Slow down. Take your time. We readers are not going anywhere and if you get the book right, the first time, we will be loyal. That's the great thing about readers. Show us how much you value our discretionary funds by giving us the best work you know how.
I look forward to reading your first words too. Michelle R. Gipson Publisher
The Day I met Oprah
I believe this was #BookExpoAmerica 2001. I was the Director of Advertising for Black Issues Book Review Magazine. We had created the Author's Lounge. It was Chicago and cold and it was the final day of a three-day nonstop conference. My very first act as the Director of Advertising. I was exhausted, when a woman from nowhere came running down the aisle whispering, "Look alive. Oprah's coming." I barely heard her but it registered that I needed to move. I looked around and there were 3 authors at the booth hanging out. I quickly assembled them on the sides of magazine cover display. I gave one the camera and asked if she would take the picture in exchange for a free ad and we waited. Stedman came through first and I explained to him that we had covered his book in a previous issue. Less than 5 minutes later, Ms Winfrey came in a beautiful pink silk suit. I stepped in the aisle. Introduced myself as a fellow Nashvillian and gave her the 30 sec pitch on Black Issues Book Review. She listened intently, asked two questions (I can't for the life of me remember now) and wished us luck and like that she was gone. We were all breathless. And by the time everyone else from the magazine arrived on the showroom floor she was gone. I had to wait until we got back to New York to have the film developed to have this proof. She is holding a copy of the publication. We published the picture and the marketing effort worked. Our advertising sales increased. It was a moment that changed Black Issues Book Review and my life. I was new at my job, but it was the moment I knew what I was doing. #MyAhhHahMoment #IMetOprah
The Art of Writing
Over the past 15 years, I have had the pleasure of meeting different writers from different genre and each had different techniques to approach their craft. The one thing that most have in common is that they read a lot and the other is that they wrote - often. Writing isn't brain surgery, but it isn't easy by any means. It takes concentration, consistency and perseverance to create a marketable work. I often run into writers who run out of steam and shortcut the process that means that in the end, the reader suffers. The reader has to endure the poor writing, skimpy plot development, bad characters and worst of all, a good story idea with bad writing. When writers ask what they need to do to write a story, I am often tempted to say, "not much at all". Subjects and verbs can get a story out of anyone. But ever so often I get someone who will ask what does it take to write a good story and for the there are three things that I tell them. First, read. Reading is like "on-the-job" training for writers. It is an inexpensive course of the craft. Second, write - a lot. People forget the art of writing is more than Tweets and Social Media updates. You can craft a long form text, email or even better a hand written letter. You can write blog pieces or contribute to community newsletters. Writers who write well have a footprint of their writing for people to see. Contribute to anthologies when you have a chance and even participate in local storytelling competitions. The more you write and have your stories read or heard, you can develop your voice or hear when you make small errors in development. You can receive feedback about when you are unclear in your writing or when something is just not working they way you want to. Finally, care about your audience. If you are successful, you will ask someone to spend his or her money to purchase something that you created. Value your reader’s time and money and they will reward you with loyalty. Loyal readers read books that they wouldn't necessarily, except that a writer that they enjoy pens it. Loyal readers tell other readers and grow your business for you. Loyal readers will miss you when you haven't published and will encourage you to write when you do not feel like it. In short, loyal readers make writers have careers. Over the next few weeks, we will explore some of my favorite writers and their processes in hopes that it will spark something that you may need to create your own process.