Influence and Power of Readers

As an avid reader, I never realized the impact I could have on the book industry.  I’d go to the bookstore or the library and see what was there, what someone decided to write and put out there for me to read.

Now, as a writer, I realize the power that readers have. It’s like the tree falling in the forest question – if there’s no one to read your book, are you still an author?

A panel of authors discussed this very topic at the Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend, hosted by the Reading Divas, October 2014 – Readers as Influencers in the book industry.  The panel included authors Austin Camacho, Nina Foxx, and Donna Hill who were asked how could readers support the authors they like?

  • Send the author a note about what you liked – or didn’t like – about the book.  Will it change the book in your hand? No, but it may influence the next one. And who doesn’t just love getting a personal note?
  • Tell 10 people that you read the book and liked it.  Word of mouth sells books.  How did you pick the last 5 books you read? For me, either someone suggested it (in person or a review) or someone gave it to me. Other than that – I found it on the library or bookstore shelf and was intrigued by the cover (I do judge books by their cover.)
  • Invite an author to your bookclub.  Having the author join you is a unique opportunity to ask all those questions you wondered about while reading the book, while giving the author feedback on the story.  This might make you nervous, thinking that surely an author wouldn’t come to your little bookclub, but you might be surprised. In my own book club, we’ve had a number of authors join us for discussion, including Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward P. Jones when we read The Known World.  What’s the worst could happen – he’d say “no.” As it turned out, he was local and available.  We’ve also had an author call in, since she was out of the country when we met.   Now, on the other side, as an author, I can say that sitting around with a group of readers, sipping coffee or wine, munching on cupcakes (there’s always cupcakes!), and hearing what people thought of Life in Spades is a wonderful experience. I’m often been surprised by different opinions of situations, readers’ favorite characters, and whether everybody ended up the way the reader hoped.  Plus, I’m amused by all the rules book clubs have!

Have fun with a theme in the book for your book club meeting.

  • Buy books – don’t share with all your friends. We all do it – we read a book and then give it to a friend to read. Individually, this isn’t too bad. But think on a large scale – sales are reduced, the market for books appears smaller. I know this sounds like a plea from authors to buy books so that we’ll make more money, and it is, but on a larger scale, it’s about more than just the individual author. This is particularly important for diverse authors, who are already battling the industry impression that minorities don’t buy books and there’s no market out there.  Consider it the same difference between you and all your friends buying a ticket to the newest Best Man or Denzel movie vs. one of you going in, videotaping it, and passing it on to everyone else. Not as illegal, but same effect.
  • Give books as gifts – especially for young people.  Our children need to be encouraged to read more than a screen-full of words at a time. Their attention span is so short and getting shorter with each tap of the screen. Give the young people in your life books and encourage them to read. And I like the Kindles & Nooks, but I really do like real pages for little people. There’s some tactile learning and understanding of how a book works for a little person to actually turn the pages.  Instead of the newest gadget that beeps or another set of pajamas – give the kids in your life a book.
  • Post Reviews for the books you read on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and other book blogs, your own or others.  Make your review informative and constructive, if you have a critique (this goes for book club discussions, too.)  “I hated this book” doesn’t help anybody. Not the author as they prepare to write their next book, especially if it’s a sequel, and not for other readers. Did you not like a character, did you want more details or less, did you want the boy to not get the girl?  Sometimes the thing we don’t like has nothing to do with the author’s technique, but what we wanted to happen – explaining the difference is more helpful for everyone.  Also, and I emphasize this –  don’t give away any spoilers.  You’re read those book reviews that tell you the end – “and then Dorothy left everybody in Oz.” What? Now I don’t even need to read the book.  Write good reviews, give another reader an indication of what you liked or didn’t, but still leave the book for their own experience.
  • Ask your favorite authors for early release copies (galleys or Advanced Reader Copies) for their books, read it, and then write a review.  Authors, publicists, and publishers send these out to get a buzz going about the new book. Your accepting it and then sticking it on your nightstand doesn’t help. At the least, post it on your Facebook page and say “hey, look – a great new book is out.”  But really help get the word out about the new book by writing a review and posting it online.
  • Lastly – read. Keep reading! We need you to read.  And thank you for reading.

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(Read my notes on inspiration for authors from the weekend in my previous post, Black Authors & Readers Rock!)

Black Authors & Readers Rock

Authors and readers – we have a symbiotic relationship, don’t we?  We’re not much one without the other.  And as a relatively new author, I definitely appreciate every reader who has picked up Life in Spades.

Since releasing Life in Spades, I’ve been fortunate to have a number of bookclubs read about Gina, Cookie, Laura, and Sherry and invite us all to their meetings.  We’ve enjoyed great discussions about sisterhood, friendship, and romance over mimosas, sangria and wine, and of course, cupcakes.  It’s really been a pleasure hearing from readers what they thought of these ladies and their lives – and what they thought they should have done.  Thank you to all my readers for inviting Spades into your life.

Frances Frost with NYT Best-selling Author, Kimberla Lawson Roby

Frances Frost with NYT Best-selling Author, Kimberla Lawson Roby

Last weekend, I participated in a book weekend that celebrated the relationship between the writer and the reader, especially those readers in book clubs.  The Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend, held in Bowie, MD by the Reading Divas, is a unique event which I think may be as enjoyed by the exhibiting authors, as the reader guests.  The weekend included a bookclub discussion of “Open Door Marriage”, by Naleighna Kai, a number of panel discussions with authors and publishers, and a keynote speaker, along with the opportunity to shop for books from the authors and Mahogany Books, sip drinks at the bar, and enjoy lunch.  The book club attendees came dressed in their matching t-shirts and outfits, lead by the Reading Divas who donned cute pink cheetah print scarves and their “Divas” bling-y pins.

I sat on the Movers & Shakers panel with a well-published group of authors, moderated by J’Son Lee author and publisher of Sweet Georgia Press.  At the table with me were: Shelly Ellis, Electa Rome Parks, KL Grady, Earl Sewell, and Nanette Buchanan. As each author read from or spoke about their novels – covering everything from romance, espionage, mystery, and of course, the girlfriend novel – it was quite evident that there is a wide berth of African-American books out on the market, and that, in fact, there is a market for diverse books, despite what some may say.

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend - Movers & Shakers Panel Moderator, J'son Lee

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend – Movers & Shakers Panel Moderator, J’son Lee

The second panel, Literary Trailblazers, was moderated by WHUR’s Harold T. Fisher. In this round, we heard from Rochelle Alers, Nina Foxx, Donna Hill, Kimberla Lawson Roby and Pat G’orge Walker. The authors talked about some of their own truths and “what no-one knows about me,” creating a new genre as Pat did with Christian comedy, the difference between romance and eroticism, and why the movie is never as good as the book (short answer: because the author rarely writes the movie script.)  Kimberla, asked if she ever thought of quitting, said that she does with every book, doubtful that it will be as good as the last.  This may seem odd, but that statement made me feel better about my own choice in pursuing this career of writing, knowing that that little wiggle of self-doubt is not uniquely my own.

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend - Literary Trailblazers

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend – Literary Trailblazers

Kimberla Lawson Roby was also the lunch Keynote speaker for Saturday.  Starting out in June 1996, she put together her debut novel after-hours while working her regular government job.  Once faced with selling her first shipment of 3000 copies of Behind Closed Doors, her husband encouraged her to make the big leap of faith from part-time self-published writer to full-time, then traditionally published, writer. She said she was nervous turning in her two-weeks notice and asked her husband what would they do if this writing career didn’t work? His message to her was one that’s crucial for anyone ready to step out on a dream – then you do something else, what have you go to lose?  Her upcoming novel, A Christmas Prayer, will be her 21st book.

As a new writer, stepping out onto this journey, it was exciting and inspiring to be included with this group of accomplished writers, as well as interact with bookclub readers.  This weekend really proved that Black Writers and Readers Rock!

 

 More on how readers can be influencers in my next post.

Good Rules for Bookclubs

One thing I’ve really enjoyed since publishing Life in Spades is meeting with bookclubs. I’ve not had a group yet that didn’t have a good discussion about not just what was going on in Gina, Cookie, Laura, and Sherry’s lives, but how all that resonated with them and the glimpses of their own lives.

This weekend, I met with a group that calls themselves the Diverse Divas and they each have a Diva name, such as “Bossy Diva,” “Quiet Diva”, “Deputy Diva”, and “The Diva”; the host was “Foxy Diva.” That was really fun – and has me pondering what would be my diva name? The group has been together almost 10 years and reads across genres. As the meeting went on, I realized that there were actually some rules to this group – much more than my own bookclub. Some of the other groups I’ve met with also had rules for the club.

If you are in a club, starting one, or trying to restore some order to your’s – here’s some of the rules I’ve come across in various book clubs.

-The first person to arrive, receives a prize. From whom? The last person to arrive, due at the next meeting.

– Anyone who doesn’t read the book, pays the hostess a fine.

– Specific genre for book selections ( my book club generally reads women of color)

– A designated person provides discussion questions – could be the hostess or another member

– An application process for membership

– A membership fee (not sure what it covers, perhaps refreshments?)

– Bookclub t-shirt/attire for group outings

– The person who suggests a book must have already read the book

What other rules does your bookclub have? What rules should your bookclub have?

By |February 25th, 2014|Bookclubs|0 Comments

Literary Pieces: A Book Review and Bookclubs

Last Saturday turned out to be a literary puzzle of several interlocking pieces, making this picture of the day:

Life in Spades for Ms. Terry McMillan (Authors Pavillion, Congressional Black Caucus)

Life in Spades for Ms. Terry McMillan (Authors Pavillion, Congressional Black Caucus)

My morning started out with notice that a book review for Life in Spades had been posted.  Probably the thing that made me most nervous after sending my novel out into the world for readers to read it, wass waiting for reviews.  Readers have posted on Goodreads and Amazon (thank you!), but this was a book-blog review, a little something different.  Thanks to  Reads4pleasure.com for posting their thoughts, rating Life in Spades with 4 “chairs” out of 5. They mentioned that “if you enjoyed Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, you’re going to love Life in Spades.”  That was piece one.

High on those comments, I finished up my coffee and went to the Congressional Black Caucus Author’s Pavillion.  And as it turned out, who was on the panel?  Ms. Terry McMillan,  along with fellow authors Victoria Rowell (yes, Drucilla from The young & The Restless) and Chyla Evans, and representatives from popular bookclubs discussing the relevance of bookclubs in the digital era of reading.

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The Authors Pavillion at the Congressional Black Caucus

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Author Terry McMillan, Chyla Evans, Victoria Rowell on Authors Pavillion panel

Victoria Rowell has written several books on her adoption as a child and the adoption of her child.  Chyla Evans, interestingly, wrote her novel Fourth Sunday, with five other authors (the book is listed as written by B.W. Read).  They started out as a bookclub, then decided to write a book. I mentioned to her after the panel that I barely got along with myself while writing, I was impressed that they were successful with six writers.

Chyla Evans and a few of her fellow writers, who make up "B.W. Read"

Chyla Evans and a few of her fellow writers, who make up “B.W. Read”

The panelists made a few points that I thought were quite useful for new writers, like myself.

  • Bookclubs want authors to be approachable. One of the women mentioned asking for an author to visit her club and the author’s agent wanted to charge a considerable amount, in the thousands. Obviously, that’s outside of the scope of your regular bookclub, so they had to pass.  Ms. Rowell reiterated this notion, mentioning how she tries to be very flexible in meeting bookclubs whenever and wherever she can fit it in.
  • The readers mentioned getting book recommendations from all over the place – reviews, word-of-mouth, online sites.  This makes sense to me as this is how I pick my own books to read.  I browse the new fiction section at Barnes & Nobles, yes, the bricks and mortar one with real books inside.  I read reviews, but admittedly, only about the first paragraph because I don’t like knowing too many details about a book before I read it.  Probably the majority of my books are from friends who said, “here, you should read this.” The take away for me was to get the book out there, get it in as many venues as possible.

Of course, I can’t go to a book anything and not come away with anything.

As Ms. McMillan signed her new book Who Asked You?, she graciously accepted a copy of Life in Spades. Will she read it? Who knows, but it felt very special to have my debut novel in the possession of one of the most successful modern Black women writers.

I picked up The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer).  It’s about a young man in African that helps to uplift his village by building a windmill.  It seems one that I can share with my children.

Here’s the line that got me to pick up the third book: “Booker’s Baltimore is equal parts The Wire and Cosby Show.” What? Two of my favorite shows of all time. It could only be better by throwing in Big Bird or a shipwrecked tour boat.  And then Sheri Booker read from her newly released Nine Years Under, about a girl growing up in one of Baltimore’s funeral homes, maybe a page or two.  Her reading was reminiscent of slam poetry – which I always think sounds so aggressive, but is very attention getting. It was the interesting contrast of this tone with the touching passage she read that caught my attention. I had the book in my pile by then, her reading just solidified my decision.

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That was all piece number two of the puzzle.

The last piece, I left from there and headed to Baltimore to meet with a newly formed bookclub for their first meeting. I was honored that Life in Spades was their first pick and thank them for having me join them.

I rounded out the evening with dinner with my sister-in-law and her family, enjoying a great big bowl of shrimp and grits and peach cobbler.  Then what can you do after that, but go home and go to sleep?

Reading with Book Clubs

I’ve been in a book club for years, as a reader. I’m obviously not unique in this membership, it seems most people are in a bookclub or would like to be.  (And yes, there are that bunch who definitely do not want to be in a bookclub for a myriad of reasons – time, they only want to read what they want to read; I get it.)  My bookclub meets loosely, about once per month, reading books by women of color, unless there’s a book that we all agree we will make the exception for, and we’ve been together about 10 years.  We’ve hosted authors in person and by phone (before there was Skype).  Now I’m on the other side, as an author.    Here’s a few tips, gleaned from my experience on both sides of the book for a successful and enjoyable book club.

Read the book.  I realize that expectation becomes a joke for some book clubs, but in truth, that really is the whole point. Of course, life happens and sometimes, even given a month, you don’t get around to reading the book, but do try. Perhaps, by page 25 you didn’t like the book and put it aside. That’s okay, at least you tried.

Discuss what you will read and how you will select a book.  Although people say, “oh, I read everything”, I don’t think that’s actually true.  We all have our preferences and dislikes. Me? I don’t read horror or anything particularly violent (yes, I’m a scaredy-cat).  Your group might settle on a theme of what you will read or what you won’t.  Then decide – will the group come to a consensus on the next selection, will you select several months/meetings head, will the host get to choose?

Set your rules. How often will you meet? Will there be refreshments? A meal or coffee and cake? Who will host or where will you meet? Is there an attendance requirement, do you have to RSVP?  How will you communicate in between meetings – FaceBook, evites, email, by phone?

Decide who can join and how. Somehow you selected your initial group; what about new members? Do you want to keep your group to a particular size? 6-10 seems like a good number; its small enough for a good discussion and large enough that if a few people can’t make it, you still have a decent number to meet.  Can members just invite a friend to come along or do prospective members have to be approved? One of my current bookclub members used to joke that she was working on her application and waiting for us to accept new members; we really aren’t that tough, but I have found some clubs that do have a formal process for accepting new members.

Discuss your book budget.  Do selected books have to be available in the library or are members willing to purchase every book?  If purchased, will you select them when they are new in hardback, or only when they are released in paperback? Check with your local library about getting bookclub holds on books or your bookstore about reserving a quantity for your members to ensure that they can get the selections.

Keep the book discussion related to the book. Probably the biggest joking comment about book clubs is that they are just excuses to get together and chit-chat about everything but the book.  But if you’ve read that book and really want to talk about it, it’s no fun when the discussion gets carried off to what happened on TV or what’s on sale at Target.  One way to accomplish this is to designate a person to manage the questions and discussions; it could be the host or another member.

Have fun.  That is the whole point, right?

What are some of the rules in your bookclub?