Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Friday, October 29, 2010

Street Lit Authors Need To Understand That Publishing Is NOT A Hustle


Street Lit and Urban Lit is red hot right now. The authors are making money hand over fist and publishers can’t keep titles on the shelf. However, if writers and publishers in the genre don’t work through their business issues, it could run into the same troubles that bankrupted African-American musicians and African-American owned record labels in the early days of Rock N' Roll.

Like the musicians from a few generations ago, many Urban/Street lit authors are great hustlers who can sell thousands of copies of a book on the street with some slick talk and a charming smile. Unfortunately, like those musicians back in the day, many Urban/Street Lit writers are so busy counting the fast money they’re making on the corner that they have no idea how the business side of publishing works in the office or what’s going on with their royalties or the rights to their material in their contracts.

And like the owners of those fly-by-night record labels back in the day, many of the Urban/Street Lit publishers that are signing authors to publishing contracts have no idea what they’re doing as businesspeople. Eventually, their mismanagement of the titles in their catalog could lead to a very nasty legal situation in a couple of years regarding the rights of their writer’s material.

What could be coming could be a legal can of worms that could take years for the courts to figure out. And with the complexity of U.S. Copyright laws, that’s a fight which could go on for decades.

Many writers have no idea what rights they’ve signed away when they sold their manuscripts. Many publishers have no idea what rights they bought when they offered to publish books. No one has an understanding of the protocols used in publishing to settle grievances about unpaid advances or unpaid royalties. Instead of learning about the business of publishing, everyone is still acting like big shot street hustlers living for the day, and not thinking about tomorrow.

What the writers and publishers of Urban/Street Lit need to understand is Publishing is not a hustle.

Fast money may be the way of the streets, but it’s not how things are done in publishing.

Publishing is a business that runs like a marathon. It requires patience, endurance, experience, creativity, and skill. Smart writers and publishers who plan for the entire 26-mile-course can survive the race because they understand it’s filled with numerous potholes.

Unfortunately, a hustler’s business model is only designed for short sprints.

On the streets, it’s get the cash and go for a hustler. As long as a hustler gets paid they don’t care what happens to the people around them. That mercenary mentality could have a devastating impact on the African-American book market and African-American readers in the future.

Because many in the street lit game have no understanding of how fragile the business model for publishing is or how razor thin the profit margin is, they have no idea that their entire sub-genre is one market shift away from collapsing. As publishers big and small currently flood the Black book market with Urban/Street fiction it prevents African-American reading audience from having choices. That lack of diversity on the bookstore shelf could create a domino effect which could cripple the African-American Fiction genre in the future.

While most in the street Lit/Urban lit game are only thinking about making money today, they’re not planning for tomorrow. Seriously, what happens in the genre five years from now? A decade from now? What happens when Urban lit goes out of vogue with black audiences? What happens when the audience grows up and desires more sophisticated material?

In the aftermath of a major market shift like the publishing collapse of 2008, the hustlers will run away and find another money making racket leaving everyone else who works in the publishing industry to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess.

It’ll be up to the courts to figure out who owns what rights and if it’s possible to collect any lost royalties from bankrupt Urban lit publishers. Large publishing houses burnt from losses on Urban/Street Lit titles could grow wary of publishing any other African-American titles. Bookstores and distributors stuck with overstocks of unsold unreturnable Urban/Street Lit titles due to the bankruptcies of publishers could also grow wary of ordering books by other African-Amercan authors and other African-American publishers. It could take years for African-American fiction market to recover as it corrects itself if it continues on this course.

In that time readers will have a harder time finding new African-American fiction titles at bookstores and African-American writers will struggle to find a mass-market venue to publish their work.

Sure hustlers are selling Urban/Street Lit today. But publishers and authors in the genre need to start thinking about the future of their business. Selling books isn’t always going to be a constant stream of fast easy money, nor is every title a writer produces is going to be a hit. Publishers can go through long periods of financial instability as they search for that next best seller. And writers can go through lean periods where no income from writing comes in for YEARS. If the genre is going to survive, Urban/Street lit publishers and writers are going to have to break out of a Hustler mindset and into a business mentality.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You’re a writer…Are you sure you can do this job?

You’re a writer…Are you sure you can do this job?

I get it asked this question a LOT on interviews.

Each time I get asked, I realize how narrow-minded employers are regarding the skills and experience writers like myself have . On my last job at a college library, my supervisor thought I couldn’t work the library circulation desk. He was looking for a sales/customer service person. Too bad he didn’t know he already had one.

Most people I’ve worked with at day jobs think writers are just people who sit up in front of a laptop all day churning out stories as they watch soaps or surf the net. What they don’t understand is that writers are some of the most skilled and seasoned businesspeople out there. To create, publish and market stories I use a variety of business skills like sales, marketing and customer service.

People who aren’t in publishing should understand:

A writer is a manager. When I’m writing I supervise and coordinate a tight schedule, fitting in time to write material, edit material and revise material. In between the time it takes me to write and revise manuscripts, I have fit in time to attend events like book signings, book fairs, and networking with other writing professionals.

In addition to managing a writing schedule, self-published writers like myself are skilled managers who supervise the entire publication process from start to finish. When I self-publish I plan page layouts, supervise cover artists, network with free-lance editors and printers to assemble raw materials like manuscripts and art into a finished book. It takes a solid set of organizational and leadership skills to publish a book and get it ready before the release date.

A writer is a salesperson. When I used to submit books to publishers and literary agents I had to sell them with a persuasive one-page letter asking them to read my manuscript. After I self-publish a title, then I have to refine my sales pitch as I draft up a press release to announce my books to the public. When I’m promoting my books I have to sell my stories to retail customers like librarians, book vendors and bookstore owners and convince them that my books will appeal to their reading audiences. At promotional events like book fairs and book signings I have to hand sell-books to readers and pitch them on why the book will be an exacting read for them.

Note for Retail employers: Books are some of the hardest products in retail to sell. Authors have to be very persuasive to get customers to buy their products. Why? A book is a product that requires a customer to commit a valuable commodity to- Time. Storylines have to be compelling to keep the reader involved enough to finish the book and buy another from that author. If a writer can sell books, then they can sell just about anything else.

A writer is a customer service representative. When I’m promoting my books at a fair, a book tour, at a bookstore or answering e-mails, I’m not just a writer. I’m a pitchperson for my books. Interacting at events like the Harlem book fair requires me to have strong customer service skills. I have to be polite, courteous and friendly when answering customers questions and discussing my books.

A writer is an Administrative Assistant.  I juggle some of the busiest schedules- my own! Mornings for me are spent doing revisions, Afternoons spent writing new material. Evenings are spent brainstorming ideas for new material. In between all this I’m networking with other writers, networking with book clubs, searching for leads or scheduling events. When I’m doing promotions, I’m drafting cover letters, press releases, assembling promotional materials and review copies and preparing them for mailing.

A writer is a computer technician. My PC is my primary tool in doing my job. It’s how I write my stories, how I communicate with clients and how I make my money. I have to know the ins and outs of the Windows (and Mac) operating system and software like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. I keep on top of anti-virus software and malware threats. Usually if there’s a problem with hardware or software I have to find out what’s wrong quickly and fix it so I can get back to work as soon as possible. One of the reasons I took A+ training was to ensure that I could fix my PC if I was having problems with it.

A writer is an Artist. I just don’t write stories. When I’m in pre-production for a title I draft cover art, and design logos and design cover concepts. When I’m plotting a story I’m designing model sheets of characters, and concepts of locations and items. Drawing helps me give a more detailed description of the characters when it’s time write them on paper, and it takes a lot of skill to translate what I’m imagining in my head into words and pictures.

A writer is a Researcher. Where do I get the Ideas for my stories? This article? I do research. In order for me to make my articles accurate and my stories "feel" real to readers I have to find facts and details. When I do research it's on the web, at the library or going out to places to learn more about a topic. My skills as a researcher would make me a valuable asset in other fields like law and marketing.
 
Employers who are looking for an employee for their positions shouldn’t overlook me because I’m a writer. I have a variety of skills that would make me a tremendous asset to a business. Instead of employers making broad generalizations, they should see my out-of-the-box creativity as a tool that enables me to think of unique business solutions from a different perspective.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hey Street Lit Authors, The Publishing Industry Is NOT The Music Business

I’ve read a couple of articles about the drama going on behind the scenes of urban lit publishers. Stuff like Wahida Clark’s issues with her former assistant and several street/urban lit authors complaining about publishers like Carl Weber’s Urban Books and Triple Crown Publications not paying them royalties. While publishers and authors have had disputes over things like this for years, urban lit/street lit authors are taking it to another level by broadcasting their grievances with their publishers in public forums.


I kinda saw this coming a couple of years ago. Mix ignorant inexperienced writers with ignorant inexperienced publishers and eventually I knew it’d be a recipe for trouble. Some Urban/Street lit writers have made a little change on their advances, sold a few thousand books, and now think that they’re stars. The publishers think they’re ballers cause the money is rolling in. Everybody is running around with bling, buying Escalades, drinking Dom and posing like celebrities.

Now they’re trying to have beefs like rap stars.

Someone needs to tell these fools the publishing business is NOT the music business.

Please don’t bring that ignorant ghetto nonsense that ruined hip-hop into the literary world. We do not need shoot-outs at book signings, drive-bys in front of the Barnes & Noble, fistfights at readings, and writers shooting jabs at back each other in their novels.

Books are not songs, and a no publisher will ever be Diddy, Jay-Z, or Swizz Beatz. Publishing is a business with a three to six percent profit margin in a good year. No one is going to become a media mogul publishing books alone. There’s just not enough money going around in the industry to support that lifestyle. Most professional writers use the little money they earn from their writing to supplement their salaries from their day jobs, and most publishers rely heavily on the licensing of properties from their best-selling books to make ends meet. Listening to all the craziness, I wonder if most urban/street lit authors and publishers understand the business model for their products.

Some best-selling authors think all the money made from the sales of their books should go to them. And how is the publisher supposed to pay to produce new material, develop new writers and gain new readers? Isn’t the revenue from the best-sellers and backlist books supposed to pay for the publisher’s new titles? That’s how it’s done at all the other publishing houses in Manhattan. But I guess Urban/Street lit authors are special.

If these authors want a bigger piece of the pie on their titles, I suggest they invest in self-publishing. 60 percent profits, 100 percent of the headaches. Then they can learn first-hand how 55-60% retailer discounts to bookstores and returns take a huge chunk of the money they allege the publisher is taking from them. And I won’t get into the headaches from distributors. Where are the books that were supposed to go to the Barnes & Noble on 23rd? They were sent to Borders on 32nd!

Then there are the Street/urban lit authors who believe their books should remain in print indefinitely even if they’re not selling. Here’s a fact every author Urban or otherwise needs to understand: 90 percent of all new titles published each year fail to get an audience. Most new published books are out-of-print after six months, and nine of the remaining ten percent that do survive are out-of-print after three to five years.

For authors who want their books to have more shelf time, I suggest print-on-demand publishing. Pay $12 a year and Lightning Source will keep a book in print all year.

Along with those misguided writers are the Urban/Street Lit publishers who want to hold onto the rights of out-of-print books with the delusion that they’re gonna go up in value like songs in a music catalog. A title that’s out of print has no value to a publisher. Going to court and suing over worthless rights takes away money from a publisher’s already razor thin profit margin. Smart publishers let the rights to discontinued titles revert back to the author so they can invest resources in new titles.

Along with those deluded publishers are the paranoid urban/street lit writers who think the publisher is out to steal their rights. Usually when a writer sells the rights to publish their manuscript, it’s only for the rights to print a title in North America. All other rights belong to the writer. This includes, electronic, (ebook) film, TV and foreign rights. If the words “all rights” are in ANY contract a publisher is offering the writer should RUN AWAY AS FAST AS THEY CAN FROM THAT PUBLISHER!

If a writer is worried about their rights I suggest they read their contract. Better yet, get a literary agent or an entertainment lawyer to look over the terms before signing on the dotted line.

Another group of paranoid writers with stars in their eyes think their publisher is gonna steal their book’s film rights and sell them to a Hollywood producer. Usually when a writer hits this stage of paranoia, they’ve gone insane. It’s best to batten down the hatches because the writer’s ego is at critical mass and will blow at any moment.

Urban/Street Writers need to understand this: Hollywood is the only interested in a book if it’s a best-seller with a million or more copies in print and a built-in commercial audience. Most Urban Lit/Street Lit novels are niche books that barely crack 25,000 in sales and the top sellers barely reach the 100,000 mark in sales. Harry Potter and Twilight numbers those ain’t. Heck, those aren’t even Getting to Happy Numbers.

Seriously, there’s no need for all this drama from street lit authors. If an author is having issues with their royalties, they can call their agent or a good entertainment lawyer and request an audit from their publishers. If an author continues to have issues with a publisher they can wait until their contract expires, let the rights revert back to them, and take their titles elsewhere, or self-publish them. All this airing of dirty laundry just further tarnishes urban/Street lit authors, publishers, and their products in the public eye.

Some advice to Street Lit/Urban Lit writers and the publishers who print their books: The literary world isn’t the music business. You’re not stars. You’re not media moguls. You’re working writers and publishers struggling to survive in a crowded book market. All it takes for your audiences’ taste to change and you’ll be unsellable mid-list authors and bankrupt publishers with an out-of-print catalog. Keep your eye on the prize. Stop being flashy and focus on improving the substance of your books.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

99 Weeks of Unemployment...AND STILL NO JOB!

Last week I received my final payment of unemployment benefits. After 99 weeks (now 100) of searching for work, I still don’t have a day job.

October 24, 2010 will be my second year out of work. I did my best to find employment in those 99 weeks on unemployment. I took job training at Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center and got my A+ Certification three months later. I took a Civil Service test. Entered a couple of screenplay contests like Scriptapalooza, Bluecat, The PAGE Awards and Cynosure. Even tried to sell my own books at the Harlem Book Fair. Twice. I did all this while I chased down leads at dozens of companies and went on numerous job interviews.

Unfortunately I’m still out of work.

I’ve got no time to blame politicians or rich businessmen for the sorry state of America’s job market. I’m too busy trying to find a way to make a living.

Even though there are few job opportunities in New York City and fewer takers in my other ventures, I’m going to keep persevering.

Even though my unemployment is exhausted, Book#4 and Book #5 are still going to be released. I've saved up enough money to get them published. I made a promise to myself to get those books out next year no matter what.  Right now I’m working on making them the best they can be. My mission is to improve quality control with each passing title. My goal is to make my self-published titles so well-made they're indistinguishable from those produced at a publishing house.

Will I find that full-time job? I don’t know.  While I wait for the economy to recover  I’m working towards my dream of having a best-selling novel. Trying to promote my older books and get new books on the market. My goal is to have two books out in 2011 and to work on new stories after that. Praying they make some money once they're on the market.

Since 1999, it’s been my writing that has supported me.  Gotten me in the door. Gotten me breaks. Gotten me jobs. Kept me afloat during the rough times. Sometimes it pays the bills. Most times it costs me money.

So until I find another day job, I’m asking everyone to help me out and buy a book. Buy two. Buy all three. Come back in a couple of months and Buy #4 and #5. I’m just trying to keep myself afloat in these tough times. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is T.I. Headed Down Tupac's Tragic Road?

I was reading about the arrest of T.I. on drug charges a while ago. Sadly, it’s a vicious cycle of self-destructive behavior I’ve seen one too many times in my neighborhood.


A man who has tremendous talent, T.I (Clifford Harris) is an entertainer on the cusp of taking his craft to the next level. A multi-platinum selling rapper, with several hit movies under his belt he has the potential to become the next Will Smith, an international superstar who commands $20 million a picture and has legions of fans worldwide.

But lately T.I. seems to be following in the footsteps of another rapper who was on the brink of a breakthrough.

Tupac Shakur.

Like Tupac, T.I. has had several run-ins with the law. Recently, T.I. was just coming off a bid in federal prison for weapons charges. When he got out, things were looking up. He got married, released a new album and had a hit movie in Takers. The world was his oyster again.

Until his Maybach got pulled over.

Officers say they smelled marijuana smoke. They found Ecstasy and Crystal Meth in the vehicle. Violating his Parole for a previous weapons charge, T.I. is going to do 11 more months of Federal time.

At 30, T.I. looks like he’s on the fast road to having his life cut short like Tupac did.

What’s sad about T.I. is that like Tupac he is on the cusp of taking his craft to the next level. But Just like Tupac, T.I. can’t leave the streets behind. An adherence to staying “real” to the streets cost Tupac his life and looks like it’s keeping T.I from actualizing his potential as an entertainer.

In both men’s cases I have to wonder if they’re staying on this self-destructive road to keep it “real” to an unwritten “code of the streets” or if it’s really fear of the unknown. In the cases of rappers who were on their way to national and international success like Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur, and now T.I. I’m wondering if death was easier for them to accept than adapting to a changing world.

The next level in the entertainment business (The one that M.C. Hammer was on, Will Smith currently is on, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is approaching) requires coming out of the ghetto and leaving street culture behind. It means leaving behind friends. Family. Business contacts brothers knew from day one to establish new ones. It’s a scary place. A place governed by a different set of rules and a totally different culture than the inner-city. A lot of brothers aren’t comfortable in that new realm. Moreover, they aren’t willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable as they adapt to their new environment. Instead of seeking out counseling to talk about their fears, brothers calm their anxieties with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

A lot of brothers fear if they adapt to their changing realities and adopt a new way of living outside of what they grew up in the inner-city they’ll lose everything. The fear of being branded a “sell-out” by the African-American community forces many Black men bend to pressures to “Stay Real”. These anxieties about racial identity prevent many brothers like Biggie and Tupac from reaching finish line and actualizing their potential like M.C. Hammer and Will Smith. Ironically, it’s giving into these same anxieties and fears regarding identity that prevented entertainers like Biggie Smalls and Tupac from making it to the next level. I’m hoping that T.I. overcomes his problems and makes his way to that next level of success.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh how the publishing world has changed!

It’s a good time to be a writer.

Coming out of the ruins of the collapse of the publishing industry of 2008 is emerging a publishing world with a lot more options for writers than fifteen years ago.  Whether it’s a getting a manuscript sold at a publishing house, self-publishing print-on-demand, offering a title as an e-book, with some effort and a lot of perseverance an author can get a their work published and find an audience of readers.

But it wasn’t always this way. A long time ago in the olden days of the mid-1990’s a writer’s options for getting a book published were limited. Back then when an aspiring writer wanted to get their book published they had to buy an expensive annual directory like Jeff Herman's Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents or the Writer’s Market. Then they had to comb through thousands of listings for an editor or a literary agent who represented their genre, print up query letters, synopses, envelopes, and SASEs (Self-addressed-Stamped Envelopes) and WAIT.

Depending on where a writer lived, they waited week, or two weeks for a response. Sometimes it took a year or more for a writer to hear back from a publisher or a literary agent. 99% of the time all an author received back then were rejection letters. Usually these terse photocopied notes were prepared by indifferent interns who wanted to clear the daily slush (unsolicited submissions). If a writer was lucky, an editor would send them a nice letter saying no on letterhead. If a writer was REALLY lucky, they got a request for a sample chapters and a synopsis. If a miracle happened, an editor or literary agent would a request for the whole manuscript.

A writer had a better chance of winning the lotto than getting published before the year 2000.

Working towards getting a book published back then wasn’t in favor of the author. Printing manuscripts, query letters, mailing envelopes and return postage all cost money. And Ink, paper, typewriter ribbons, (what I used until 2002) and envelopes didn’t run cheap. An author had to spend thousands of dollars towards and countless hours getting someone else to say yes about their story. And if an author beat all the odds got their story sold and published into a book at a publishing house, they could get a whole ten percent of the list price of a book once the advance paid out. And if a writer was REALLY lucky, the book would stay in print for more than six months.  Maybe the book would even get a promotion bugdet from the publishing house.

Not a lot of money for so much work and so much time.

Self-publishing in those pre-internet boom days was a dream for everyone but those authors who had large amounts of cash on hand. It usually cost $10,000 to $25,000 for an author to self-publish a book on an offset press. Back then, an author had to hire out an artist to design the cover, a page layout artist to design the interior, and an editor to review the manuscript before it went to print. Then they had to clear out space to store 5,000 copies of their book. Not a very economical option for us apartment dwellers with limited incomes.

In the 2000s Print-on-demand publishers and e-book publishers lowered the cost of getting a book published and the game started to change. As authors spent a decade working with POD publishers like iuniverse, Wheatmark, virtualbookworm.com, and lulu and found a place for their material. Publishing houses and literary agents scoffed at the quality of the books being produced in these venues. Bookstores complained about the lack of discounts and returnability of titles. All complained about the amateurish covers, the poor quality of the editing, and poorer quality of the writing.

In spite of this complaining, some writers found a market for their titles. Others found an audience of readers. Sure the sales weren’t New York Times bestseller numbers for most titles, but self-published authors, print-on-demand authors, and e-book writers were making inroads and gaining ground. Slowly.

But this year I’m seeing things really start to turn around for Print-On-Demand books, self-published books, and e-books. For the first time I’m starting to see more of these titles gain market share with readers. And I’m starting to see more titles from these publishing mediums getting critical acclaim.

I’m also starting to see more authors who use these mediums taking control of their own destiny when it comes to the fate of their manuscripts. Instead of giving up when the publishing houses reject their manuscripts, many writers are now taking advantage of the numerous publishing options available to get their work on the market. For the first time the power in marketplace looks like it’s shifting from the publisher to the author.

And that has a lot of people who work at the publishing houses worried about actually competing with self-published books, print-on-demand books and e-books. With authors now becoming more knowledgeable about the publishing process and software like Adobe Photoshop, Acrobat, and Quark, and other desktop publishing software, the quality of self-published books, print-on-demand books and e-books is improving. From what I’ve seen on recent books, the covers are professional quality, and the editing on spelling and grammar inside most titles are almost equal to the quality of a book that made its way out of a publishing house. Retailer discounts are the same as the costs publishing houses offer bookstores and many authors have full returnability on their titles.

With so many options available to them, savvy writers are now spending their money on self-publishing fist rather than on the expensive query process. Resources an author would have spent on querying publishers are now being spent printing books and promoting them to readers.

And that has a lot of publishing professionals scared. As the marketplace for books changes, many in the publishing world have no idea if they’ll still be able to find employment when the dust clears. Who needs an agent to represent them if the writer is representing themselves? Who needs an agent to sell their book to a publishing house when an author is selling their own books to customers? Why sell all the rights for a small advance when the writer can keep all those rights to their work and control how they’re distributed? Why cut someone in for a meager ten percent royalty on the list price when an author can make thirty to sixty percent royalties on the same title?

And who needs an editor to approve a book project if the writer is approving their own projects for publication? Who needs distribution when authors are going direct to customers with Amazon and online retailers? And with bloggers, online book clubs, and social media, a writer can get the word out about a book to more readers faster than Kirkus or Publishers Weekly ever could.

Many who work the publishing industry are being forced to adapt to the changing state of the publishing world. Some literary agents and editors are pondering offering services to self-published authors like editing, proofreading, and consulting. Others are offering to write reviews for self-published books for a fee. Everyone is struggling to adapt and survive in a new and different publishing world.

The 2010 publishing world is a much different place than the one I entered in 1994. The playing field for writers is becoming a lot more level than it was back then and writers have a lot more power than they did sixteen years ago. I never thought I’d live in a world where a writer can publish a book for a couple hundred dollars and get it on amazon. With the popularity of the kindle and e-books I have a feeling that the publishing world is going to open up more and give writers more access to the reading audience than ever before.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Skank Robbers featuring Wanda & Shenehneh Coming to a Theater Near You WTF?

Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and Halle Berry are set to star in The Skank Robbers, a comedy featuring the characters Wanda from the 1990’s television sketch comedy series In Living Color , and Shenehneh a character from Martin Lawrence’s 1990’s sitcom Martin.


The Skank Robbers?

With Wanda & Shenehneh is going to be a feature film.

Seriously WTF?

No, seriously, WHAT THE FUCK?

Want to know what really sucks about this movie? The fact that TWO ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS are gonna star in it. Two people who have won those gold statues that are supposed to elevate an actor’s career are going to star in a 90-minute film based on a pair of outdated 5-minute TV sketches featuring brothas dressed up like women from 20 years ago.

Ugly caricatured women.

Ugly caricatured women who perpetuate the WORST stereotypes about sistas.

Oh and the icing on this shit cake: Jamie Foxx is writing, producing, and directing this nonsense.

*FACEPALM*

Seriously, out of all the material out there for a pair of Academy Award winners to star in, produce, or direct they get on board for this? Out of all the potential projects out there for two African-American Academy Award winners to throw their considerable clout behind, they choose to re-hash old material from 20 years ago they’ve all outgrown talent and craft wise.

These are our Black A-list performers. The cream of the crop.

What a fuckin’ embarrassment.

What’s even sadder is the fact that this movie is getting full support from Hollywood. Along with a greenlight, this project has a release date (August 19, 2011) and theatrical distribution. Meanwhile a quality comedy like Black Dynamite (one of the best spoofs in decades with and some of the best production values I’ve seen when it comes to set design and costumes) gets a limited release and no support. Instead of these award-winning performers working towards taking black cinema to the next level they set it back.

Jamie, Martin, and Halle need to grow up and realize they’re too old for this nonsense. Now I like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But as much as I enjoy that show, Will Smith ain’t making a movie about it in 2010. Why? He’s 40, and is too OLD to play that role. I also liked Disney’s Newsies, but ask Christian Bale if he’d do another movie based on that material now after playing Batman for two straight films and you’d get punched in the face. Both men have evolved in their craft and have no intentions of going back to old material. Why can’t these three talented performers find material that’s more suitable for their age?

The time passed for Wanda & Sheneneh in 1994.

I was always turned off by those sketches when they came on TV when I was in college. To me Wanda & Sheneneh weren’t funny then and they aren’t funny now. I mean, seriously, what’s the obsession with Black men in dresses in the media? Madea, Big Mamma, Wanda Shenehneh, Martin’s momma, Myrtle Urkel, Flip Wilson as Geraldine, Larry Johnson as Gramamama, what is so fascinating about watching a brotha put on a dress and act feminine? Is it funny to watch a black man emasculated onscreen? Does it entertain America to watch a brotha cooning onscreen? Is it amusing to watch brothas made up to look like America’s BITCH?

Black America needs to be bitchslapped by Homey the Clown with a sock if they pay money to see this.

Halle, Jamie, Martin where is your DIGNITY? Your SELF-RESPECT? YOUR PRIDE?

But I guess things those intangibles don’t matter as long as the check clears and it gets your name in the press. (See Montana Fishburne, Daddy’s little porn star)

Seriously, where’s the NAACP? Hey Ben Jealous, don’t you think it’s time for a PROTEST? Over the past decade I have seen some of the most offensive material come out of Black Hollywood since the 1930’s and the NAACP has been silent. Worse Black America has been silent. A whole movie about Wanda & Shenehneh? This is what Hollywood greenlights? This is what gets distribution and a release date a year in advance while a dozen other better stories about the Black experience languish in development HELL?

Forget Hollywood, for a moment. This is what a Black man thinks is quality entertainment for other Black people? An Academy Award winner like Jamie Foxx thinks it’s a good idea to spend money on a trailer and then broadcast it before the BET Awards, the cesspool East of MTV. Then he thinks it’s okay to spend millions more dollars on this 20-year-old nonsense and make a movie out of it. Does Jamie think so little of his brothers and sisters that he isn’t willing to put forth the effort to create a good original comedy?

Now I understand why he gets less respect than Cuba Gooding Jr.

And Martin Lawrence, someone who stated in INTERVIEWS for Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins that he had OUTGROWN the Martin character and characters from that show is deciding to bring back Shenehneh now? What would make dude think it’s a good idea to regress to material he feels he is beyond? Is it the paycheck? Is money that tight brotha got to put on a dress?

Then there’s Halle Berry who after three years out of work, thinks this it’s a good project to get involved in a disastrous project like this after three straight flops at the box-office. This kinda crap wasn’t well-received in B.A.P.S over a decade ago, so why would she be so eager revisit these kinds of stereotypical characters?

I mean what’s wrong with these Negroes in Hollywood? Have they lost their minds? Don’t they know the difference between funny and offensive? Do they have any idea what good taste is?

Some may think this is funny to watch brothers and sisters embarrass themselves, but I’m not laughing.

I could understand if this type of film was coming from a guy with no experience or understanding of the impact of racist images in black cinema like Tyler Perry. But this embarrassing project is coming from three people who know better. Who worked their way through Hollywood. Who experienced first-hand the numerous barriers African-Americans have faced regarding racism and sexism and know how hard it is to get a quality project for black actors into production. Moreover they understand the damage these images will do to the African-American community.

But I guess harming the image of black people doesn’t matter as long as Foxx, Lawrence and Berry cash their checks. An individual’s success is more important than reinforcing negative perceptions of Black people worldwide.

And I thought Lee Daniels was the devil.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Paying For A Book Review? Save Your Money

Lately I’ve been reading about industry trade publications offering self-published authors a book review in exchange for a hefty fee. For decades these magazines offered titles at publishing houses free reviews and scoffed at the works of self-published authors. Now with their ad revenue and sales down, they see self-published books as an easy way to make some fast money on writers.

The respected literary reviewer Kirkus has offered paid reviews to self-published authors on their site for years with Kirkus Discoveries ($425) and now the magazine Publishers Weekly is offering a review service to self-published authors PW Select ($149) where a writer’s books are considered for review in a quarterly supplement to their magazine.

Even some literary agents are trying to get in on this new cash cow. One literary agent proposes to review an author’s title self-published title for the low price of $395-$495.

Personally, I feel paying for a book review is unethical and immoral. It’s a breach of journalistic integrity for any reviewer to take money in exchange for reviewing a title.

Why is it unethical? When a writer pays for a book review it compromises the integrity of the review process. It creates a slippery slope where a reviewer’s incentive for giving good reviews based on the amount of money they make from writers, not on the quality of the writing. What’s to stop a reviewer from giving a terrible book a five-star review if giving that book a good review will get them the money to pay their rent? Where do the standards for quality regarding writing and content go when the only thing that matters is the check clearing?

A reviewer is only supposed to be paid with a copy of the book. This way the reviewer has the incentive to remain unbiased and fair in presenting their opinions of the material submitted to them.

When a writer pays for a book review it’s tainted. The opinions regarding the material are compromised by a writer’s financial consideration in exchange for the reviewer’s services. Journalistically, it’s the equivalent of taking a bribe. The opinions written in that review can’t be seen as valid by the public because the source cannot be trusted as unbiased and fair.

So what’s a writer paying for besides a compromised review? An opinion. And one person’s opinion really isn’t worth $195-$495 of a writer’s hard-earned cash. Self-publishing costs enough as it is for an author to waste this kind of money on something that will have a negligible impact on sales.

Here’s the truth about book reviews: They’re a way for writer to get feedback about their writing. They’re a great part of a writer’s press kit for a title. Along with a well-crafted press release, they’re a persuasive way of getting readers and retailers excited about a book.

But book reviews by themselves don’t sell books. Most casual book readers don’t even read them. Even the ones in the New York Times Book Review get ignored. When I bought that paper back when I was job searching, I’ll admit that was the one of the first sections to get tossed unread. And I’m a free-lance writer.

From my personal experience promoting The Cassandra Cookbook I can tell readers that reviews have no impact on sales. Even though the title was lauded with praise from critics, it still suffered from lackluster sales compared to Isis (where I sent out ONE review copy via e-mail) and All About Marilyn (where I sent out MUCH fewer review copies).

I can also tell authors that I’ve posted copies of my book reviews up at the Harlem Book Fair for readers to look at and guess what? No one cared about them. Want to know what people read at my table? The synopsis on the back cover of the book.

From my experience in the self-publishing trenches I can tell other aspiring self-published authors what sells books are:

A well-written synopsis. If the two paragraphs on the back cover are compelling, they’ll have more impact on a reader than rave reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and The New York Times combined!

A strong word-of-mouth. People tell other people about good books so, the best thing to an author can have is a well-written story. That’s what sold Isis for eight straight years and what's selling Marilyn right now.

A captivating cover. I cannot stress this one enough; the cover is the first impression a reader gets of a title. A strong cover tells a story with a single picture and grabs the reader in an instant. A self-published author should consider investing their money on having a professional artist design the cover before spending money on anything else.

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars for a book review no one will read, self-published authors should invest in free reviews from friends and local professionals to build word-of-mouth among local readers. Reviews from these sources posted on Amazon and other retail sites can have a bigger impact on potential readers than a paid review posted on some site no one will visit since they come from individuals who have experienced the book first-hand. Writers can also get free reviews from book clubs that target their category if they query first and pay to ship them a book. If a writer does their homework and looks out for free promotional resources they can get the word out about their books and keep their cash in their pockets.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cassandra Cookbook Counundrum

A pinch of Hard Work.

A dash of determination.

A recipe for no sales.

The Cassandra Cookbook was supposed to be a recipe for literary success. It was well-received by literary agents, book clubs, and most critics It’s a book praised for its solid premise, well-developed characters and tight storyline.



Unfortunately, African-American readers weren’t interested.

Despite handing out numerous free (over 40) promotional and review copies to vendors, aggressively contacting African-American book clubs, and bookstores, the sweet story about the girl working towards developing her own recipe for success in Downtown Brooklyn is a failure. Isis and All About Marilyn kick Cassandra’s ass in sales.

I’m trying to find out what went wrong with The Cassandra Cookbook. It’s a mystery that baffles me. Everyone likes the story when they read it, but can’t it get any takers when it comes time to buy it. I’m still trying to figure out:

Is it the price? $14.95 isn’t that pricey for a trade paperback Cassandra’s size. I mean, I offered it for $5 at the Harlem Book Fair this year with lots of lookers, but no takers. Amazon discounted the book down to $2.36 this summer and STILL no buyers. Meanwhile over the summer, Isis and All About Marilyn continued to sell and pick up readers and interest.

Is it the cover? Some reviewers said they were turned off by the cover. I’m trying to figure out what is it about the cover repulsed people? The composition of the figure? The image of a black woman with blonde hair? Or is it because she’s a light-skinned African-American? My pencils? My ink and color work?

Some complained about the colors I used on the cover. I used pink and blue in the cover design because that’s what most publishing houses were using on their chick lit covers to “cute” up their design. Chick Lit covers often used illustrations to appeal to young females. But I guess African-American women don’t like cute stuff on their book covers. Many in the Black community thought I was selling a children’s book and not a piece of contemporary fiction targeted at them.

Is it the title? Many on the street misinterpreted my attempt to be clever with the title and thought the story detailing a sista’s recipe for success was a real cookbook. Maybe the concept of a Cassandra Cookbook went over most readers’ heads.

Was it the writing? While most liked the story, some complained that I over-worded some paragraphs. I don’t think the paragraphs in Cassandra were wordy; Read Jane Austen, Anita Brookner or any English author and you’ll be in for some dense paragraphs. Others didn’t like the fact that I used the word “digress” or the word “pink” so many times. I don’t know, I thought I by using a word like digress would help readers develop their vocabulary; something a reader would need to expand for exams like the SAT, GRE, or civil Service tests. And White chick lit heroines have pink everythings; from their cell phones to their nail polish. Was I wrong to think African-American women would identify with a woman who liked cute pink things?

Could I have offended some brothers and sisters with the down-low storyline involving Cassandra and her fiancĂ© Gerald? I did my best to be as sensitive as possible tackling that particular storyline showing how the harm down low men cause for black women is emotional, and not about a man’s sexual orientation. What hurts most sistas about down low brothers is their violation of a sista’s trust and their lack of honesty. It’s more about the lying to them about being straight than a man being gay. However, I understand homophobia is rampant in the African-American community, and perhaps many brothers and sistas were turned off by a storyline that explored complex gay issues.

Is it because I’m a black male? I don’t know. Many sistas don’t mind picking up books by other black male authors like Eric Peete, Eric Jerome Dickey, or Carl Weber that feature black female protagonists. Isis and All About Marilyn both featured female lead heroines and readers love those stories.

Was it the editing? I’ll take responsibility for the errors in Cassandra. Truth was I wasn’t in top form on editing because I was starting a new job and working with a new computer a year after my laptop died. But hey, those street lit books have 50X more errors than Cassandra does and brothers and sisters are more than eager to give those titles a chance regardless of quality.

Could it be the timing? I released the book unaware that street/urban lit had become the new hot thing in African-American fiction. The way this book has been recieved, I have to wonder Is anyone black even still interested in contemporary African-American fiction stories anymore?

Or is Cassandra just a victim of the sophomore curse? This is a tragedy usually befalls an author’s second book.

All I know is I did the best I could with Cassandra. I put my whole heart into that story and it hurt to watch it received so negatively by readers, especially women of color who I wrote it for.
While many may not like it, Cassandra was a very inspiring and uplifting story for me. I was out of work for a LONG time (Since November 2002) and was depressed over losing a job I failed to do well at (Brothers at the reception desk= FAIL). While I was writing Cassandra’s story in 2003-2004, I managed to work my way out of depression and lost over 40 pounds. Cassandra was the first book since Isis that put a smile on my face. I loved sharing what I knew about the black business world on paper.

I also loved trying out new techniques. The Cassandra Cookbook was the first story where I experimented with a new softer style of storytelling. In the past I often wrote darker, more cerebral characters and very intense storylines. Cassandra’s story model was the first to feature lighthearted characters, a quirky storyline and a bit of fun. I designed the plot structure to have more of a comical nature than the seriousness of stories like Isis, All About Marilyn, or The Temptation of John Haynes.

Doing things differently with Cassandra’s story had a huge impact on my writing career. When I queried literary agents; it was the first book that attracted their serious interest. Cassandra almost got representation. It almost got sold. It almost made it to a table at Barnes & Noble. It coulda been my big break. I believed in the story even though positive rejections piled up in cyberspace and in the mail. Everyone telling me how great the story was encouraged me to persevere.

Then in July 2007 in the middle of editing it and revising All About Marilyn my first laptop, a Dell Inspiron 2500 died after seven years of service. I put my dreams on hold but continued to do revisions on loose-leaf paper hoping to self-publish Cassandra and share it with readers.

As I found employment in early 2008, I set a goal. No matter what happened with this new job, I was going to publish The Cassandra Cookbook. In my first 90 days on the job I spent my nights revising Cassandra while adjusting to a new work schedule. I saved up money from my first few paychecks eager to share this great story with brothers and sisters and spent several thousand dollars in between the book fairs, mailing out free copies and other promotional efforts to get the word out about this book. It saddens me to see all that work I did to publish and promote this book went nowhere.

The Cassandra Cookbook was my first book back from a long journey back from depression and unemployment. I've done all I can over the past two years and I don't know what to do anymore. I love this book and I don’t want to see it die. I believe in what I wrote. I believe Cassandra is a great story that will put a smile on people’s faces. I just wish brothers and sisters would take the time to give this great book a chance.