Writers Organize!

As a writer, I am on a continual quest for ways to organize all the various tools that are important to my craft. Sometimes I read about a new idea. Other times, I have a flash of brilliance all my own. Let’s peer into one of my flashes.

When searching for markets for my work I look in many places: magazines, trade books and online. This can be overwhelming! One popular writer’s market book is enormous. Often, when I am ready to look for a place to submit my piece, I’ve forgotten where I saw the market! So, I gave it some thought and came up with an idea to organize this information.

I went to a local super center and purchased four plastic index card boxes. Then, of course, I bought index cards. On each box, I used scrapbooking alphabet stickers to label the boxes for articles, short stories, novels and poetry. And, being the creative type I am, I added additional stickers to make the boxes my own.

The next step was going to be a bit tedious. I took that huge market book and sat down with it. As I find a market that is compatible with my style and genre or simply captures my interest, I write all the information on an index card. I admit this will take time to do, but it is worth the effort. As I find markets in magazines and online, I write down the information and add these to the mix. As I finish each card, I place it in the appropriate box. Now I don’t have to turn the house upside down to find it when I need it.

To further organize, I purchased alphabetized cards for a few of my boxes. For short stories and novels, I’ve chosen to make my own cards separating the entries into genres. For markets that cater to more than just one of my chosen areas of writing, I make a duplicate card for each box that the market pertains to. In this way I won’t have to search further.

Once I have my boxes organized, life will be simpler. If a market ceases to exist, I can remove the card. As new markets come onto the scene, I add them. I have all the information I need for submission at my fingertips. It is a tool that will never wear out and is versatile. Now, I can cross one more item of my quest list.

Breaking the Rules to Success: A Writer’s Journey

In October of 2000, as I sat on the white sands of Cancun with other fellow literary entrepreneurs, it occurred to me: Things would be different if I hadn’t broken the rules. Instead of sitting there, looking out at the aqua blue waters, I’d still be waiting by the phone for a call from my then agent.

Instead, here I was, surrounded by 13 book clubs representing 25 states, on a Caribbean cruise. It was literary nirvana for me. I thought of how I might have been locked out of seeing my work in print because someone else arbitrarily decided no one is interested in African American historical fiction right now.

Well, I found out directly from my book club readers, who had already bought my books, that my novels spurred a lot of conversation about Southern traditions. Some of the readers thought that I had been born in the South. (No, my parents migrated from the South, though.) From what I gathered, both of my books, THE EBONY TREE and NO POCKETS IN A SHROUD, evoked memories of growing up black in America. So I got to thinking…

For years, my writing role models were mainly white males. Out of that group, the most memorable for me were the ones who went against the rules that were conventional at that time. What if Faulkner hadn’t broken the rules by writing in such long, convoluted sentences? Or James Joyce hadn’t broken the rules by writing stream-of-consciousness? Or D. H. Lawrence hadn’t written the first literary erotica? And what about the original prose of Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison? Without these experimenters the literary world would be at a loss.

Or, for a more modern example, what if the authors of the Chicken Soup series, which is reported to have sold 65 million books in my most recent 2000 issue of Publisher’s Marketing Association magazine, had listened to the 30 publishers who rejected the first title? The publishers felt the market was “not interested” in short, tender stories that make people feel good. Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield were successful because they read the needs of the market more precisely than did the publishers.

As for my black female role model writers, what if Alice Walker hadn’t written THE COLOR PURPLE, which brought “ebonics” to the level of high art? Or Toni Morrison hadn’t penned BELOVED? Or Gloria Naylor hadn’t written MAMA DAY? A reader on the cruise who read my novel NO POCKETS IN A SHROUD told me that she now often goes to my site to pick new writers to read. She and other book club members like the type of subjects the new writers are tackling, such as Teenage Parenthood, Black Men in Big Business, and Family Secrets, to cite a few examples.

The point is, it’s a new day in publishing. Readers and writers are the ones calling the shots as to what they want to read now. Instead of letting someo ne decide what the market is, create your own market. For instance, I’m told there’s no market for African American historical fiction. I don’t buy that. If we, as African Americans or any ethnic group, don’t know our past, we’ll keep repeating it. Also, writers have told me their works were rejected because they write about young adults.

Until this day, I still reread LITTLE WOMEN, THE YEARLING, and the precious few books that I got my hands on about young people while I was growing up. I encourage writers of young adult fiction to write what they write best. Just as Christian Fiction was not popular 2 years ago, now it is coming of age among mainstream readers. Often times, someone has to self-publish the work first, then create the market. When I get e-mail from readers and students saying they are doing book reports on my books, or from librarians asking for the mythical and spiritual history of THE EBONY TREE, I know I did the right thing.

Instead of waiting for someone to make an opportunity for me, I’ve learned that you have to make your opportunities for yourself. Then, if someone comes to you from mainstream publishing — which is becoming a growing trend, as witnessed by black writers Tracy Thompson, Parry Brown, and Karen Quinones, who have been picked up by New York publishers — you will be in a better position to market, negotiate and navigate the publishing waters. After all, it is still up to the writer to get their books sold.

35 Promotional Tips for Writers

Whether you just published your first book or your tenth, whether you write poetry, fiction or non-fiction, the key to book sales is marketing and promotion. Poetry is not going to make a writer rich. However, being recognized as a published poet can lead to paid gigs. There are a number of things you can do as a poet to market yourself. Many of these tips also apply to writers of all genres.

I know of a number of authors who “say” that they never make an appearance, write an article, etc unless they are paid for it. I don’t know whether this is true, but if it is, these people are missing out on some extraordinary opportunities. As in any profession, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door as a writer. Once your foot is in, you can generally manage to sneak in your whole leg and eventually your entire body.

If you know where to look, there are many opportunities for poets to self-promote. Take advantage of them all, because one can often lead to another, more lucrative one.

For example, I started a local poetry writers group in 2003. No one pays any fees and I don’t earn a single penny from it. In 2004, someone in the group referred me to a local library that participates in the Inside Writing & Publishing series for the North Suburban Library System. In March and April every year, they sponsor 10 or so local writers to present a variety of writing-related workshops. They pay the writer $50 per hour for each workshop. The library contact called me and asked if I would present a poetry-publishing workshop.

I developed a 2-hour workshop, presented it at four libraries in March/April 2006, and earned a total of $400. I put together a flyer stating what was covered in the workshop, listed a number of the comments from the workshops (which were all extremely positive), and added a new workshop I was asked to develop – an introduction to poetry writing. I started sending that out to park districts, writing groups and other places that teach writing classes in the Chicago area, and already have commitments to present my workshops to various places starting this fall.

Below are a few ideas to get you started. Some of them do not pay, and some of them do pay. Remember, doing something you are NOT paid for can easily lead to something you ARE paid for!

1. Start and run a poetry-writing group.

2. Host poetry reading open mics.

3. Join the local arts council.

4. Give away audio books to visually impaired people and organizations – word of mouth may lead to book sales.

5. Sell audio books of your poetry book that you create yourself.

6. Lead poetry-writing workshops.

7. Become a teacher for middle-school through college level classes.

8. Teach an online poetry course.

9. Become a book editor, offer to proofread/edit other author’s books.

10. Write a column for a newspaper or a writer’s magazine.

11. Write a column or articles for a writer’s magazine (print or internet).

12. Network, network, network! Join writers groups, arts and other literary organizations, both online and in person.

13. Offer to host a poetry reading for your city’s next Arts Fair, Festival or Taste of the City event.

14. Offer to set up a table and sell your books at local community, school or synagogue/church events. In lieu of paying a fee, tell them you will donate $1 to them from every book you sell.

15. Make good use of press releases. When you have a new book coming out, promote it with a press release. When you are going to host a poetry reading, send your local weekly newspaper a press release. Eventually they will see you as an upcoming presence in the local literary scene and will interview you!

16. Contact local radio stations that have talk shows about local literary/arts events and people. Offer to talk about your new poetry book and other literary activities.

17. Do poetry readings at libraries, schools, senior/retirement centers, nursing homes, etc. and do not charge a fee for these, with the understanding that you retain the right to sell your books after the event.

18. Go to as many poetry readings as you can to read your work and sell your books

19. Participate in local literary festivals, book fairs and other events where you can read your work and sell your books

20. Participate in multi-author events where you can all read your work and sell your books

21. Use your email signature as a marketing tool – list the names of your poetry books and your website, which should have purchasing information and links to any sites where people can purchase your books.

22. Make the most of your website – have links to all the websites where your books can be purchased.

23. Offer personally autographed copies at a 10% discount when bought directly from you. Set up a PayPal account to make it easy for people to buy from you.

24. Forty percent of all poetry book sales occur in the fall. In September, offer discounts on your books for the upcoming holidays.

25. If you have more than one book, offer a 20% discount if people buy all of your books instead of just one.

26. Offer free gift-wrapping year-round.

27. Leave a copy in your doctor or dentist’s waiting room for patients to read while they wait. Put a library card “checkout” pocket in it with some business cards so they know where to order their own copy.

28. If people buy books from you to give as gifts, offer to gift-wrap them and also to ship the books directly to the person for whom they are buying it.

29. Leave printed out copies of your poems (either individually or stapled together) on tables at coffee shop for customers to read – make sure to staple business cards to the front page so they can pull it off and be able to order a copy.

30. Have one page devoted to links to other writers’ websites and do link exchanges. The more websites that link to your own, the more opportunities you have to make a sale. Do not limit it to just the genre(s) you work in.

31. Subscribe to writers newsletters and authors newsletters. They are often a wealth of marketing and promotional ideas.

32. Create a newsletter of your own – send out not only recaps of your recent writing achievements, upcoming appearances, etc., but include tips that other writers will be interested in.

33. The more you get involved in, and the more you network, the more opportunities you will have to tell people about your books and this will lead to more sales.

34. Always help other writers when you can and if you can. It will somehow come back to you.

35. Carry your business card everywhere, and pass it out to everyone you can! Leave it on restaurant tables, on bus seats when you get off. Hand it to cashiers when they give you your change and/or receipt. Hand it to the person at the post office, the car repair shop, the clerk when you pick up your dry cleaning, the delivery person the next time you order in pizza or Chinese. Leave some with your doctor, dentist or veterinarian. Put them in envelopes when paying your bills.