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.

If you’d like to be on my mailing list to receive my blog posts, notification of my events and advance notice of the release of my next book, sign up here with your email.

(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.

Maya Angelou – May Your Wings Fit You Well

I imagine that everyone will have a say on the passing of Maya Angelou.  A quote from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a line from Phenomenal Woman or And Still I Rise or some other favorite poem.  That includes me, just my thread to add to the story quilt of memories about this amazing woman.

On my list of life regrets, will always be that I never took her class at Wake Forest. Even though I was in graduate school for my MBA, it seemed like a thing I should do – wander over to the lecture hall and sit in, and listen to this legendary writer who shaped American literature and gave a unique voice to the African-American story.  In my first year, by the time I found out that THE Maya Angelou was a professor on campus, she wasn’t teaching. Then in my second, well… you always think there will be time, right? As another option, I imagined just walking over to her house (Winston-Salem is only so big, how hard could it be to find) and having a glass of tea while listening to her rumbling voice tell stories and sing poems.

I was fortunate enough, however, to see her speak once or twice. Something she said in one of her talks makes me smile whenever I have to speak in public. She said, “when you get nervous, just sing.”  And then she sang this little song about there always being a rainbow in the cloud.  Well, if there’s anything worse for me than speaking in public, it’s singing. But this makes me laugh to myself whenever I stand in front of a crowd and I smile and relax, so I guess her suggestions works just the same.

I’ve shed a few tears today, for I feel like I lost a friend.  But whenever I get a little nervous, I hum a little melody-less tune and hear her voice, reminding me to sing.

Dr. Maya Angleou – we pray that your wings are gonna fit you well.  Rest in peace.

May 28, 2014

 

 

An Afternoon of Books & Lunch at Busboys & Poets

I don’t know what took me so long, but I finally made my way to Busboys & Poets.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Andy Shalal, the owner, at the Hurston Wright Awards, and my daughter had studied the Harlem Renaissance in school recently; I took these as signs to visit the namesake restaurant for one of the premiere writers of the era, Langston Hughes.

Busboys & Poets, Washington DC

Busboys & Poets, Washington DC

The restaurant is cozy, reminding one of a friend’s chic dining room, that is, if you had a friend who had 20 or so tables and modern art hanging in their dining room.  There were proper tables, as well as pillow-laden couches surrounding low coffee tables as dining options.  We enjoyed a delicious meal – including a great crabcake. And being from Maryland, Baltimore specifically with a good amount of time on the Eastern Shore, I am a bit of a crabcake snob.  This one was truly meaty and tasty.  For dessert, my daughter ordered the vegan cookie and ice cream. She’s not a vegan, but for some reason, likes vegan cookies.  And for a vegan cookie, it was really pretty good; so much so that I’m looking for a recipe to try at home.  (Feel free to share if you have one.)

finaloutput

Pesto Lasagna @ Busboys & Poets

Shrimp & Crab Fritters

Shrimp & Crab Fritters @Busboys & Poets

Crabcake sandwich

Crabcake sandwich @Busboys & Poets

Vegan cookie & vanilla ice cream

Vegan cookie & vanilla ice cream @Busboys & Poets

After lunch, we hung around in the bookstore part.  I get e-books, and of course, Life in Spades is available on Kindle and nook, but there’s something about physical, touchable, flippable pages.  I am one of those dinosaurs who still wander to the bookstore to kill time and walk out with a stack of books.  As we did this time.  I was excited to be in a book space filled with writing by people of various races and nationalities.

A selection of books at Busboys & Poets

A selection of books at Busboys & Poets

And something I haven’t done in years? I bought a book of poetry.  I love poetry, but admittedly, sadly, rarely buy poetry books.  I picked up Jamaal May‘s debut collection, Hum, and look forward to folding myself into a chair with a cup of tea and gliding through his words.  I also bought Hannah Weyer‘s On the Come Up and James McBride‘s The Good Lord Bird to add to my to-read pile.

As far as hanging out with your kid moments? I enjoyed having my daughter along.  Like me, she’s a reader and has commented before on the lack of diversity in teen books.  There was a bookcase of young adult/teen reads, from which she selected a couple of books.  I was excited to see that she was learning about the Harlem Renaissance in school – the cultural history and the literature.  She knows of the Cotton Club, Hughes, and learned to do the Charleston.  I wonder if I had been exposed, if I had known about Black authors when I was in middle school or high school, what would I have done with that knowledge?

Selection of books, including teen/young adult, at Busboys & Poets

Our reading stack from Busboys & Poets

For one, I would’ve been introduced to Janie and Teacake much sooner in my life.  But at least, I’ve also finally made it to Eatonville, named in honor of Zora Neale Hurston and located across the street from Busboys & Poets.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner there (I had the pecan pie for dessert) last month.

I’m happy to check both of these local “must do’s” off the list – and to return to both soon.