This week I’ll be reviewing one of my favorite writing craft books. It’s called Write. Publish. Repeat. by authors Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, & David Wright. Maybe it’s wrong to describe this book as a craft writing book. Those books usually suggest things you can do when it comes to the specifics of your story. Lots books are about plot beats. Others are about the character arc. Some want you to write a great villain, or structure a romantic subplot. This book, however, is light on those mechanics. What this book is about is the business of being a self-published author.
See, guys like me, who are chasing a traditional publishing contract are quickly becoming a bison in a thinning herd. More and more people are self-publishing. And they’re not just doing it on Kindle. It’s an exciting time in in the publishing world – if you’re a self-motivated writer.
And that’s what these guys are. Throughout this 462 page book, you get the impression that these guys work very, very hard.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THIS BOOK
- The book is broken up into five sections with introductions and clear guidelines.
- They write argumentative essays explaining why they do what they do – and why you should do it too.
- The authors deconstruct what needs to be done, step by step, with humor and panache.
- The writing is crisp, clear, and entertaining. You’ll laugh out-loud.
HOW THE BOOK IS ORGANIZED
- An extended introduction of themselves and terms you should know.
- Explaining the Self-Publishing landscape and how it can help you.
- Creating a professional book – from story, to editing, to concerns of post-production like formatting, book covers and Pricing.
- Marketing 101. From creating an email list, to blogging, to the concept of funneling. (This is the real gem of the book. Really good stuff here.)
- Thinking like a publisher (i.e., an entrepreneur)
- An appendix with interview with successful independent authors.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT I REALLY LIKE ABOUT THIS BOOK?
There not dainty about the subject of writing and publishing. They have no problem speaking the unvarnished truth. And boy, are these guys funny! There sophomoric antics shine through the pages of this book. I sometimes mourn for their long suffering wives.
My favorite story is how they set up a giveaway for signing up for their email list. Eventually they ran a contest to determine what the subject of their new flash fiction stories. The winner? Caveman time-cop.
The information in this book is in-depth and exhausting. I read it the first time in 2014 and it scared the crap out of me. In many ways what they were talking about was overwhelming. How was I going to implement all this? How was I going to get this stuff together? How was I going to find the people I needed to help me do book covers and format and all that other stuff? It was inspiring and intimidating at the same time.
If you’re looking for a business book on writing that is going to serve you a warm cup of chamomile tea, pat you on the hand and tell you “Everything is alright dear. You just write your book and nice people will magically do all the rest of that nasty business stuff,” then this book is NOT FOR YOU!
However, if you’ve got a story you really want to tell, if you’re more than curious about self-publishing and want to try it for yourself, if you are willing to do the dirty work of marketing yourself and creating a platform, If fighting for your spot in the marketplace gets you excited in the morning, than this book is for you.
It’s not pretty at times, but it is hones.
The African-American community is large and diverse. While reading my essays & blogposts, or taking my classes at local conferences, please know that my beliefs, experiences & insights are my own. You can find ten other African-Americans and hear ten different opinions. My hope is that you glean something from my experiences which help you write Authentic African-American Characters.
When I first taught this class at Pikes Peak Write Brain, the thing that resonated the most was my discussion of the culture of poverty. It’s controversial to say this, but poverty, at least in the industrialized world, is also a set of values, assumptions and beliefs about yourself and the world around you. To understand African-American culture is to understand how the culture of poverty pervades and influences our families, our communities, and our greater culture. To do that, I am going to reflect on a personal experience from my twenties.
My mother’s name was Carolyn Ann Walker. She was born at the University of Kansas Hospital, in Kansas City, Kansas in 1942. She lived her early life in Kansas, then moved to Pasadena, Ca in the mid-1950s, along with her extended family and her local church. (Yes, the entire church migrated to California. Another blog, to be sure.)
She graduated from Cal-State Northridge with a B.A. in Psychology. She graduated from Pacific Oaks College with an M.A. in Human Development, and earned an MFCC license. She worked as child social worker for the county of Los Angeles for over twelve years before she died in 1996.
By all accounts, we should have been a well-adjusted and stable Black middle class family in the 1980s. We should have been, but we weren’t.
My mother always had money problems. She was always stressed, upset, or plain angry about something related to money. Why? Let me get to that in a moment.
Meeting People of Wealth
I have been very fortunate in my life. I have met and became friends with five millionaires. Now, I’m not talking about the superrich. I’m talking about people whose assets, in total, are worth over 1 million dollars. A couple I used to work for was the first. I met a university professor and her husband, who were the second. A dear friend of mine who I used to play Dungeons & Dragons with, was the third. A public school nurse was the fourth, and a programmer who frequents local geek conventions is the 5th. I have gotten to know these people, asked these people questions about wealth and how to acquire it. They all have one thing in common: They are really cheap.
These people don’t care about fancy cars, or clothes, or dinners out. All of them prefer to cook at home. All of them buy used cars. They are millionaires because they all had relatively high paying jobs (except the high school nurse,) and they didn’t spin their money, frivolously. They were all in their late forties or older when I met them. (Except the programmer.) They all had spent at least a decade saving their money and investing conservatively. They are all very frugal.
This was when I really discovered the difference between a culture of wealth and a culture of poverty. The poor want money to buy things, while the wealthy just want the money.
Now don’t misunderstand me! Rich people clearly buy nice things. However if they want to stay rich, they will never put themselves in a position where the things they buy effects their bottom line. The Rich people I know don’t empty the bank account for a blowout Christmas or birthday party. They don’t buy expensive gifts frivolously.
Where the Money Went
In my mother’s house however, the bank account was empty a week after payday. This was odd because she made really good money. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day we lived like kings! As soon as January 1st was over, we tightened our belts and lived hand-to-mouth.
It was very common for my mother to borrow money from friends to pay the light bill, or make rent. In Southern California we had the St. Vincent DePaul Charity, which gave out free bags of groceries to the poor. Well, we got St. Vincent DePaul at least twice a year, when she couldn’t buy groceries.
I bet you’re wondering where the money went?
My mother had an intense belief in what being middle class was supposed to look like. To her, being middle class meant driving a nice car, living in a neighborhood without violence. It meant her kids wore name brand shoes and clothes. It meant going out to dinner frequently.
Mom used to joke she was going to get me braces. My teeth have always been straight, I’ve never needed braces. Whether I needed them or not wasn’t important – the white kids had braces, so her son was going to have braces, too.
To my mother, being middle class meant have access to the possessions middle class people had. Even if it meant we did without in other areas. It was all about conspicuous consumption. She was trying to access and maintain a social status based on her spending. She was using her money to buy respectability.
Why did money run out?
- Because my mother bought a G20 Infinity in 1996. (Her car payment alone was other people’s rent.)
- Because she rented a house with four bedrooms and a swimming pool. (There were only three of us! Also, we would only go swimming in the summer – the water was too cold, otherwise.) A smaller home in a smaller neighborhood would have provided a cushion, financially. But she loved that house – we all did.
- My mother Never brown bagged lunch. When she worked, she ate lunch out. That meant a local sit down restaurant, not fast food.
A Story about School
I got accepted into UC Santa Barbara in 1994. My old Tandy computer from Radio Shak was on its last legs. I didn’t care though. I knew there were several computer labs on campus. I just figured I would write and print my papers in the labs.
I will always remember my mother coming home from work one day. She honked her horn for me to come outside. When I got there she was in tears. I asked her what was wrong. She said she had qualified for a loan to get me a computer to take to school. She thought this was a miracle.
I never asked for a computer. But that was never the issue. No son of hers was going to go to college without his own computer. Her son was going to be just as good as those white boys.
I shudder to think what the payments were on that computer.
In many ways my mother worked herself into the grave trying to pay for all of this. She died in October of 1996, a few weeks short of her 54th birthday and a few months after I walked.
The culture of poverty tells us that we must consume conspicuously. Everyone must see that new car, the diamond ring, or the 50 inch television. Being middle class, or even rich, isn’t about having the money to travel or take care of sick loved ones, or even securing the future of children. It’s about having the things they have.
- This is why poor kids will have high end smart phones.
- This is why everyone has a 40+ inch television.
- This is why kids walks around in $300+ shoes.
I have been fortunate enough not to buy into conspicuous consumption too much. I do have some nice things, but I don’t go overboard. Every day I see more African-Americans who choose not to buy into this culture, too.
I hope this has been blog has been helpful to you.
Now, I want to leave you with a little exercise. If you’re writing a novel where the protagonist or one of the supporting characters is African-American, think about the unconscious conspicuous consumption they participate in. Is it a woman who must have the latest Fendi bag? Does he buy a new $500 watch every 3 months on a teacher’s salary? Does she lease her car? Does he own three video game systems and buys new $60.00 games once a week?
Settle on a spending weakness and figure out why they spend this way. Does it make them feel better? Superior? Is it a form of affection? (Things = Love,) Is it therapy? (an entirely different subject!) Whatever the reason, figure it out and add it to your character.
See you next month.
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Welcome to my website & blog! If you’ve come over from the Pikes Peak Blog, we’ll get to the topic of research in just a minute. Either way, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you find here, make sure to share on your own social media platforms.
Over at Pikes Peak I wrote that you should do your research before you write your book. I want to pars this out, if I may. Research is really important, now. In the past, genre’s like historical fiction, science fiction and political thrillers had to get the details right, or else lose the readers. However, times have changed. Thanks to authors like George R R Martin, even fantasy have to get the basics of their world correct or else it just won’t make sense.
However, you can go too far.
I have heard stories in the dark recesses of the internet, about amateur writers who spend every waking moment doing research. If they right science fiction, they order that large, high school Periodic Table poster made out of vellum, so they can look up atomic weights at their leisure.
If they write, Historical Romance, they find and save hundreds of pictures of horses and horse tack so their description is spot on in that one scene.
Don’t be either of these people.
What I mean by doing your research, is have a general familiarity with the time period, the social conventions, and the political landscape of your story. I want you to do this so you don’t find out that your book is implausible because of a basic historical fact. (While it’s real cool to write a story about British SAS troops fighting in World War I, it will probably never get published. The SAS weren’t formed until World War II.)
Once you’ve done that research, then write your book. Do whatever you want to do in that story. When you are done, then go back and research the minutia.
Research the appropriate colors manufactured in clothes. Research the kinds of handles and cross guards used in swords. Research the way food was prepared, or how women put on corsets. Research, research, research.
But if you try and do all the research upfront, there is a very good chance you will never finish your book. I know from experience that a flawed book draft in my hand can be fixed faster than a book that was never written. Don’t be that guy who never writes their book.
Author Susan Spann has a great system for research. She writes the Hiro Hattori Novels, set in 16th century Japan. When she’s writing her draft and needs the name of a place, or object, she doesn’t stop writing and go research for an afternoon. She leaves it blank and places a note in her digital copy reminding her to look this stuff up later. When she’s done with the draft, Susan goes back and researches the specifics and puts them in her book. Her system is efficient and effective.
Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. Remember kids, before you start writing, get the basics down. Then when you’re done writing your draft, go back, at some point in the editing process, and find all of the minutia we readers of Historical Fiction love to nitpick about!
Now let’s talk more about research. Real research.
On the Pikes Peak blog I wrote that Wikipedia is a good way to get some general information about a time period if you’re a little sketchy. I still believe that. But what other sources can you use once you’ve exhausted Wikipedia?
1.) Your local professor and college. If you live in a major metropolitan center there is usually a college of some sort in your area. It doesn’t have to be a major research institution like Stanford or Yale. It can be a community college. Whatever it is, visit the colleges website. Find the history department webpage and browse. They should have a list of their faculty and their expertise. If they don’t, then call the department and ask. Part of the department secretary’s job is to help answer questions like this. Once you’ve got a hold of the right person, email or call them. Be honest and tell them you’re writing a book and want to ask them a few questions.
I know this can be awkward, but remember these people have dedicated their lived to the study of History. They would probably love to make an appointment to talk about something they love. (Don’t we all?)
If you can’t find what you need in the history department, check out the ethnic studies department, gender studies, English, or even the psychology department. Some universities also have thriving drama departments where people practice choreographed sword fights, make costumes for plays, and set design. These people could be great resources for your book.
2.) Historical Reenactors. I put this here because I used to be a reenactor for ten years during my misspent youth. Many of these people have the same dedication and work ethic of the professors above, but are much easier to approach.
They’ve also got an experience with history that the professional historian may not have. The reenactor has also worn the clothes, fired the weapons, made the tools . . . you get the idea. Their perspective will be unique. They are also very colorful people. You can find reenactors everywhere. From Chicano kids who wear 1940s pachuco fashions and swing dance, to guys who make and wear Roman legionnaire costumes.
I will have to caution you though. These are not professional historians. Sometimes they have their own agendas, like all of us, and will push a perspective on history you may disagree with. It doesn’t happen often, but you should be aware. (I once had a fellow reenactor tell me that Ireland was an independent nation during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. Yeah, read a book dude.)
3.) Documentaries. If reading through dry Wikipedia entries aren’t your thang, then try to find a documentary. There are some lovely ones out there right now. Clearly, we are living in an information renaissance. Amazon Prime has some, as does HULU. However, for my money you can’t be Netflix and PBS. Both make great independent documentaries. They also show documentaries produced by National Geographic and the BBC. The added benefit is that you get the visuals. You see the way the fabric moves, or the cloud of gunpowder. You also get to listen to professional historians, archeologists, anthropologists and many other experts get right to the point.
4.) Youtube. I LOVE Youtube. I have spent entire days just watching Youtube. Youtube you to be about cat videos and funny vines. Now it’s about everything. I watched a guy install a medicine cabinet in his bathroom on Youtube. He gave me the courage to try in mine. I learned a dozen food recipes on Youtube and found them all delicious. I even watched a video on how to change your car’s lightbulb on youtube and then changed my own.
Whatever questions you have about history can probably be answered by a Youtube search. I have found pages that go into weapon metallurgy, discuss sword based martial arts, 18th century American cooking, and more.
The benefit of Youtube is that the creators of these videos usually make more, in depth, videos. It’s like a documentary that has new segments every time you return.
Now there can also be misinformation on Youtube. People with agendas. But it is a resource for your research.
I truly hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions, leave a comment below. Or, sign up for my email list. Like and share, too!
Next month, we talk about actually writing your book!
Have a GREAT February!
Jason Henry Evans
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