Public Self/Private Self

I subscribe to a daily newsletter about the publishing industry; it is comprised of articles from both the company that oublishes the newsletter, and other industry professionals on various topics.

Today’s email included an article by a PR person (who shall remain nameless because I felt rather disguated afte reading her $.02). who listed the major mistakes authors make with regard to marketing/PR (and what she allegedly tells her clients). One of those mistakes was oversharing on social media. She emphasized that politics, religion, or even what you had for breakfast/lunch/dinner. should not be mentioned on your social media, lest an author alienate potential and current fans. In short, keep it light and fluffy.

Pause.

Now, I understand the oversharing part. Some things don’t need to be mentioned, like your cat’s yeast infection, or even your yeast infection. But authors are more than just sales numbers on a ledger sheet. We’re people. We have hopes,fears (writers moreso than others 🤣), likes, dislikes.

 I like it when my favorite authors share personal tidbits about themselves: pics from vacations, pets, favorite socks. It humanizes them and makes me even more inclined to buy their work, because they are not just robots sitting in front of a computer, churning out novels.

But to keep my thoughts silent regarding any issue that is important to me–be it Black Lives Matter or a BLT sandwich–for the sake of selling a book, does not sit right with me. And if someone doesn’t want to buy one of my books because I took a stance with which they do not agree, well…I’m not for everyone, and I wish that person well. 

It reminds me of the backlash when singers, athletes, actors, et al make their thoughts known regarding social and political issues. The mindset becomes, “Shut up and keep entertaining the masses. That’s your job, not expressing an independent thought.” Yet that is doing these people a disservice. They are human and have feelings; to try and shut them down for the sake of keeping stadiums, arenas, and theatres filled is hypocritical and oppressive.Yet many people concerned with an entertainer or athlete’s bottom line will attempt to do just that, all for the sake of making a buck (for themselves and their clients).

To paraphrase some quote that I saw on Instagram: I won’t dilute myself for those who can’t handle me at 100 proof. You shouldn’t either.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Reflections on the Old Year

On New Year’s Eve 2014, I wrote a list of goals that I wanted to achieve in 2015. It totaled over forty items, spanning four sheets (single-side) from a small, ruled notebook. I sealed that list in an envelope and scrawled “TO BE OPENED ON DEC. 31, 2015” across the front and the seal of the envelope. I tucked the sealed list in a journal and went about my business.

Yesterday, I opened that envelope and went through the list, checking off those things that I accomplished and making notes otherwise (e.g., maybe I accomplished part of a goal, or the goal needed to be modified during the year). Sadly, I didn’t check off most of my list, though I was proud of those things I did (the year wasn’t a total wash!). Among those was:

–Established a business banking account
–Found an accountant that specialized in small businesses
–Set up my author website
–Did book signings at independent bookstores
–Guest blogged on a site
–Got new glasses & a fresh supply of contact lenses
–Regularly exercised 3 times/week
–Wrote more handwritten letters, which of course led to
–Getting new stationery 🙂
–Got a new winter coat (not that I’ve had much occasion to wear it, what with temperatures being in the 60s & 70s for most of November and December 2015)
–Got more involved in my college alumni association and local chapter of the alumni club.

I also achieved some goals that I hadn’t listed, such as having my sports articles published in major, national publications such as Sports Illustrated (via The Cauldron on Medium) and Ms. magazine, and other articles published elsewhere around the web WOOT!  I was fortunate to make some cool connections with some like-minded folks in both the same and different industries, and I’m looking forward to our collaborations in the upcoming year.

I tried some new things and failed (applied for writing grants and submitted short stories to two publications), but got positive, valuable feedback that will set me up for success when I try again (and I was actually encouraged by The Powers That Be at each organization and publication to try again. How cool is that?).

Even those goals that weren’t accomplished were valuable. For some, they were only partially completed (I wanted to publish four books last year, but only did two: The Bastille Family Chronicles: Dominic and Stormbringer. That’s still better than zero. I also released BFC: Dominic and a previous book, Blizzard, in mass market paperback formats.).

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This a speculative fiction novel (a new genre for me!), written under the pen name Tai Daniels

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This is the second installment in the Bastille Family Chronicles series

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Now avaolable in mass market paperback, only on my website, tiffscribes.com

For others, they gave me an insight as to the work that was still to be done in order to check them off my list. Some goals were too vague, and some were too specific and didn’t allow for the twists and turns of life.

Still others became no longer relevant in retrospect, and these uncompleted goals are the ones to which I’m paying more attention. Their lack of relevancy to my life is forcing me to closeer inspect them and discover alternate routes that may be better suited to my needs.

Oprah Winfrey is often quoted as saying “Man’s rejection is God’s protection.” While some of my goals weren’t reached due to personal error, others weren’t due to circumstances beyond my control. There may be a reason for this, and that reason may be that Goal X isn’t what I really need–or, upon reexamination, what I really want. Not reaching those goals may have been a divine form of protection, and it’s up to me to figure out if this is true, and the way forward if it is indeed true. And for those unrealized goals that were my fault, having a long, hard look at some harsh truths is the best way to garner progress. As the Twelve Steppers say, admitting a problem is the first step. 🙂

Though 2015 didn’t shape up to be all that I hoped it would, the year ended up a lot better than 2014 was, for which I am truly grateful. I’m excited and optimistic for 2016, and I’m looking forward to opening the sealed envelope of goals that is now inscribed, “TO BE OPENED ON DEC. 31, 2016”.

Happy New Year, all, and thanks for stopping by.

A Review By Any Other Name…

I have noticed a trend in book “reviews”, especially by independent bloggers such as myself: they aren’t reviews so much as puff pieces: PR-worthy paeans of praise for prose that is possibly putrid.

(that alliteration just rolled off my fingers. Yay, me!)

Seriously, folks: I was a professional (read: paid by legit publications & recognized as such) book reviewer for some years. While individual writing style may vary, a proper review always–ALWAYS–includes the good and the not-so-great things about a book. And make no mistake, there is always something not-so-great about even the most bestselling and/or popular book.

I would never have gotten even one review published had I just focused on how great (or not) I thought a book was; that’s how I learned to write a review, by having my drafts sent back and rewriting them to accurately reflect concrete, objective issues in a book versus my personal feelings about the book (there is a difference, but people often confuse the two under the guise of a “review”).

The people who paid me wanted balance, as that balance was what lent legitimacy to the reviews by both authors and readers alike. And yes, I have caught hell from authors when a review wasn’t as glowing as they’d prefer (“What…what do you mean, you didn’t like XYZ in my book? How could you find fault in it? Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews loved it! It’s on the NYT Bestseller list! It’s got over 500 five-star ratings on Amazon!  HOW DARE YOU?!”), but in the end they had to (grudgingly) admit that while the review wasn’t to their liking, it was at least fair. Plus, if an author is a true writer who wants to further hone his or her craft, the constructive criticism is necessary for future growth.

(if you’re a writer and you can’t handle folks telling you your writing sucks in some way, you’re in the wrong line of business.)

There is nothing wrong with giving a shoutout to an author when you’re digging her or his work. Our egos thank you for it. But keep it real and call the praise-only blurbs what they are: acknowledgements of fandom better suited for personal blogs and big-ups on social media, rather than a “(professional) review”.

Thanks for stopping by.

Writing and The Conundrum of “Free”

I love “free”.

Food samples? I’m on it. Giveaways on the corner? I’m widdit. Free items via shopper’s card at a grocery store? Yes, indeed.

I’m all about that something-for-nothing life….except when it comes to books.

I suppose this makes me a hypocrite because I check Bookbub and Choosy Bookworm every day to get ebook deals and if it’s good and free, I usually partake. The upside: I sometimes discover good authors and I didn’t come out of pocket. The downside: I have a glut of ebooks across Kindle, Google Play Books, and Nook that I still haven’t read from two-plus years ago, and I keep piling on more.

The “write/don’t write for free” debate has raged across the literary landscape for years. It’s especially more pertinent now, with so many authors choosing to self-publish. Some self-proclaimed experts insist that giving away books is one of the best ways to build your audience. Others ignore that advice in an attempt to preserve the value of their work.

Which is the best path?

I can’t say for sure. I was always taught that people don’t value that which they didn’t have to work to obtain, be it via money, time, or work. This value statement applies to physical objects, relationships, goals…you name it. If you don’t put some skin in the game, some kind of way, it won’t matter to you once you get it. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “In it to win it.”

I have written articles and book reviews for free, especially when I was venturing into a new area outside of my comfort zone. Each time, I parlayed those free writings into paid gigs–which was my end game (I’m an unapologetic capitalist). Writing for free doesn’t mean you have to keep doing so; if your writing is good, it will get noticed by people who are willing to pay for what you have to say–unfortunately, this sometimes means giving a larger sample of free writing so that the lucrative gigs can get a better measure of your writing style and determine if you are worth the cash and will enhance their media brand. I get it: it’s good business sense, particularly for internet-based companies without the resources and reserves of more established brick-and-mortars. And while I implore all writers to value their work, make sure you are actually writing something of value–boring, trite, repetitive, error-filled, cookie-cutter writing may work for those fly-by-night, clickbait-laden sites, or for those whose reviews/follows were purchased, but won’t cut it for the major players. and/or serious readers.

I’ve given away my books for free. Usually, there is “payment” in the form of an email address so that I can increase my mailing list, or an agreement to provide an honest review, or some other sort of mutually profitable arrangement. All to increase my book sales some more (sales are lifeblood to the professional author, whether traditionally or self-published. The love of the art is the catalyst, but in the end it’s about cold, hard cash, continually increasing sales, and ending up in the black.). Likewise, when I’ve won books via a giveaway, I had to pay in the form of providing my email address; answering questions (anyone who has entered a contest via Rafflecopter feels me on this LOL); (re)tweeting my entry into the contest; following the author on Twitter or liking a Facebook page. There was a payment involved, an exchange of energy that made me look forward to getting that book–which I read almost as soon as I received it. In the end, I paid for those books somehow, and I valued them more because of that, even if it was just an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) and not the finished, shelf-ready product.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I think of those hundreds (and counting) of ebooks clogging up my platform apps. I also look at the books (e- or otherwise)  I tend to read and re-read: the ones I actually purchased, even if it was only for 99 cents. To not read them, after I bought them, would be a waste of money and that is counterintuitive to my personal beliefs. The free ones? I’m not so pressed about, which is why they continue to stockpile. I have no incentive for reading them NOW. I recently went through a bunch of books I had in storage. Most of these I’d gotten free from the Book Expo of America (BEA) over ten years ago. Most of them I still haven’t read and don’t know when I will. I didn’t pay for them: I lived in New York at the time and my entrance fee was paid for by a publication for which I used to write reviews. So they will continue to gather dust and be relegated to the “I’ll get around to it” zone. And before you ask: I’m keeping them because most of them are out of print, or have original cover artwork (and have since been re-released, perhaps as a movie tie-in or as part of a move to a different publisher), so that makes them more valuable to me. And they were…well…FREE. 🙂

This is my personal conundrum: give away books with no type of “payment” from potential readers in an attempt to bolster my audience and sales, or charge money? I’m all about building my audience (and sales), but I also don’t want to end up in anyone’s (e)book glut, either, to be discovered one, five, or ten years down the road…or never.

I can’t dictate what’s best for each writer. You have to do what you feel is best for you and your career, and blessings be to you on whatever you decide.  But as for me and my house, I prefer to get paid.

Thanks for stopping by.

Your Geek Ain’t Like Mine

From Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Nerd (noun):

: a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.

: a person who is very interested in technical subjects, computers, etc.

Geek (noun).

: a person who is socially awkward and unpopular : a usually intelligent person who does not fit in with other people

: a person who is very interested in and knows a lot about a particular field or activity

[sidebar: the above terms are often used interchangeably]

Late last year on Twitter, I stumbled across a group of people calling themselves Blerds (Black nerds). Blerds were the lost tribe I’d been seeking but didn’t know it: a group of melanin-enriched folks with high IQs and love and appreciation for a diverse array of things considered not the norm for traditional Black folks, including comics, video games, science fiction, and punk rock. I was in heaven. I’d found my peoples.

I reveled in it. I wrote about it for Black Girl Nerds. I read comics for the first time (and reviewed a few). I was down like four flat tires.

Then I got my geek card pulled.

I frequently partake in #SaturdayNightSciFi, hosted by Geek Soul Brother, a fellow Blerd. Every Saturday night, we gather across the interwebs to live tweet a curated sci-fi/fantasy movie or the first two episodes of a (usually cancelled) SFF (science fiction/fantasy) TV show. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the offerings and have garnered new favorites as a result: the now-defunct British TV show Misfits and the now-defunct American show Fringe (the latter proved so popular for #SaturdayNightSciFi that we are now indulging in #FringeFriday. Join us at 9 pm ET on Fridays!).

Misfits TV with caption

Game of Thrones fans: yes, that is “Ramsay [Snow] Bolton” on the far right!

Fringe glyph code v4b

The infamous FRINGE glyph/code

Fringe S1 cast

Once again, I was happy to be amongst my tribe, my peoples, those who are often considered to be marginalized within Black society due to our interests and intellect.

Until Farscape.

farscape-characters

Farscape was the latest #SaturdayNightSciFi offering and, as usual for a TV show, we were slated to watch the first two episodes. I barely made it through episode 1.

I was out of my depth from jump with regard to sci fi references that seem to be canon. On the contrary, my Blerd compadres were, well, geeked to be watching, and lost no time dropping SFF comparisons.

“Nice move to cast Kent McCord as Crichton’s father.”

“That trans-dimensional scene reminded me of Contact just a little.”

“…And it’s from Yuri Gagarin” 

“The last few Red Dwarf series jumped a whole school of sharks”

“Love Farscape! But Lexx was the better ship!”

“So, this is the sexy blue alien species that inspired the Asari in Mass Effect, eh?”

“LANI JOHN TUPU and he’s a captain!!!!!!”

HUH?!

Basta cartoon

“Basta” is Spanish for “enough”

Um…okay. I had no idea what they were talking about. The Geek was strong in these ones, but I was on the outside of the Death Star, futilely seeking entry through the formidable force field. My geek game was clearly the opposite of fleek. I wasn’t even on Padawan level; I was just a midichlorian.

What can I say? Geeks gonna geek. I quietly raised my church finger and exited out of the live tweet. (anyone who has encountered the Baptist Church will get that reference LOL).

This was a humbling experience. I realized I am more of a nerd than a geek, it seems: I hardly read comics, I prefer non-alien SFF (Terminator movies and The Fifth Element notwithstanding), and I have only a superficial knowledge of Star Trek (but I at least can differentiate between Star Trek, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: DS9and Star Trek: Enterprise). However, I’m all about that Star Wars action, boss, and I have all 132 episodes of the Thundercats cartoon on DVD. I’m also a fan of the Watson and Holmes and Nutmeg comics series.

Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stuck (pt. 2)

Back in January (I know, it’s been awhile), I posted about a bout (ha ha) of writer’s block and how reading The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader helped me break out of it. I promised to follow up on what I meant, so here it is.

It took so long to write a follow-up because I got unstuck, then stuck again, and had to get re-unstuck. Plus, I had to indulge in my annual “holiday”, March Madness, so there was that. 🙂 Anyway, in The Ninja the main character, Nicholas Linnear, is training for a specialized form of martial arts: ninjutsu, or the art of the ninja. As part of his training, he is told to read No Rin Go Sho (The Book of Five Rings), a classic yet short Japanese military tome by Miyamoto Musashi. While The Book of Five Rings is primarily devoted to victorious sword-fighting it, as most Japanese books do, incorporates philosophical and spiritual elements. The main underlying principle to the book is adherence to the Way, which I interpret as an honorable place of spirit that is applied to every endeavor in one’s life. The Way is when a person is true to him/herself in whatever s/he does; by doing so, it’s implied that any decision made will be correct.

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. Next, in order to beat more skillful men…not allowing your heart to be swayed along a side-track. Even, if you kill an enemy, if it is not based on what you learned, it is not the Way. If you attain this Way of victory, then you will be able to beat several tens of men.” — The Book of Five Rings, Musashi Miyamoto

I was stuck in my writing because I lost my Way (or way). I was writing to fit myself into a marketing category, instead of just writing and figuring it out later. When I look at my first book, I see where I went wrong (and a future rewrite/re-release is still an option), and how I could have had more fun with the book. Even with the third book in the works for a late April/early May release, I’m slowly getting away from what I think I should be writing (e.g., the romance novel formula that is set forth by the Romance Writers of America) and just letting the story take me where it wants to go. That’s where the most honest writing lives, anyway.

It’s hard sometimes because the story may not be in line with what my current readers want or expect. Therein lies the rub of the published author: give the people what they want, or stay true to self? Stephen King said it best in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft :

“What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like…in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues. What’s equally wrong is the deliberate turning toward some genre or type of fiction in order to make money. It’s morally wonky, for one thing…Also, brothers and sisters, it doesn’t work.” — On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

So here I am, finding my Way, writing what brings me joy and what may not fit into the Census-like boxes of the publishing industry. To that end, I may even abandon the whole pen name thing as well; I usually end up signing my real name out of habit, so what’s the point? The best I can do is turn out quality product, and hope that readers will (continue to) ride with me. The minimalization of book category may even help gain new readers, since they won’t automatically see a genre (e.g., romance) and think, “Nope, not for me.”

If you’re in a stuck place in your life (no matter what your profession or day job), I encourage you to go back to the beginning of when you were hopped up with excitement, when you felt, deep down, that your path was the right one for you. I encourage you to find your Way (again). And you might want to check out The Ninja; it’s a pretty cool read.

Thanks for stopping by.

Higher Levels, Bigger Devils

I love basketball. I get geeked for the start of NBA season, and March Madness is my personal holiday. I read sports-oriented publications, and I stan for Bleacher Report and its app, Team Stream.

Since its inception, I have enjoyed the online publishing portal Medium; specifically, its sports section, The Cauldron. While all and sundry can post their thoughts on Medium as a whole, certain sections such as The Cauldron are invitation-only, and if you’re selected, you have to show and prove.

I have never written about sports in an “official” venue, and never played sports a day in my life (unless you count high school varsity cheerleading, which many do not). Still, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and apply to write for The Cauldron.

My first article was rejected; no problem. As a writer, I’m no stranger to that. My second article was accepted, and has been getting good buzz. While I’m pleased, I’m also nervous. Medium reaches an audience vastly larger than my deliberately limited, personal social media presence. Suddenly, my ideas were exposed to a totally different audience…and along with the praise, came the trolls.

WHOA. What…who…WHAT?! To think that my six-minute read about granting NBA media access credentials to bloggers would strike nerves…it was interesting, to say the least, and at times amusing. And, I have to admit, kind of heady: that my words would make such an impact, become part of an ongoing conversation, and basically be  taken seriously (which is infinitely preferable to being considered a joke). That’s part of why writers write: to make that impact, to drive conversation, to call attention to an issue.

I’ve had people comment just to say they won’t read the article (huh?). I’ve gotten complaints that I didn’t take a firm stand on one aide versus the other (I did that on purpose). All this reminded me that when you strive for greatness, you catch more flak with each success. Or, as my late grandmother used to say, “Higher levels, bigger devils.”

Many of us say we want success but aren’t willing to pay the price. Part of that price, especially as a writer, is public exposure, and belief that someone out there wants to hear what you have to say. The flip side of that is opening yourself up to attack by those who aren’t feelimg what you have to say, or disagree with your right to say it. One article (so far) isn’t much of a down payment, but it’s a start. And the bill will only get bigger.

Thanks for stopping by.

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