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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stats for the YA eBook Exclusives and eBooks for Under a Buck

The SJS DIRECT YA eBook exclusive series on Smashwords was a huge success. Over the course of the campaign, I increased the exposure of my books to a national and international audience, and increased sales in retail on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Stats on the Summer YA eBook exclusive series (5/30/11-8/31/11):

Isis: Trial of The Goddess-156 downloads
The Sneakers-150 downloads
Isis -142 downloads
All About Nikki The Fabulous First Season-139 downloads
Baptism of Blood- 99 downloads
The Saga of MastiKatious-77 downloads

Isis: Trial of the Goddess was the most downloaded and read eBook in the campaign. The Sneakers was #2 and to my surprise Isis was #3 getting a record 142 downloads of the free edition in two weeks!
The Isis prequels Saga of MastiKatious and Baptism of Blood also performed strongly. Baptism of Blood has close to 100 readers and saga has close to 80 readers. I had four titles go over 100 downloads!

While the Isis saga was the most downloaded I was happy to see how popular All About Nikki is becoming. The three episode sneak preview eBook had the most likes on Facebook.

And the All About Nikki sneak preview had the most sales of all the YA eBook exclusives. Even though the book was free on Smashwords, a lot of people liked the story so much they were eager to pay 99 cents to download the sneak preview to their Nooks and Kindles.

The results of the YA eBook exclusive campaign had some indirect results. The biggest surprise for me was the reception I got in the international marketplace. I didn’t think African-American fiction would garner any interest in foreign markets, but there seems to be a growing audience for my work there.
All About Nikki was extremely popular in foreign markets, especially in the UK and Australia where the sneak preview eBook picked up a majority of its Kindle and Nook sales. And The Sneakers was a big hit in Germany and Australia.

The eBooks for Under a Buck campaign was also very successful. As a result of the promotion, my books got increased exposure in national and international markets.

In the eBooks for Under a Buck Campaign, The Temptation of John Haynes was the top-selling title.
All About Marilyn also was #2 in eBook sales overall. While Marilyn sold eBooks in the U.S., it sold more copies in international marketplaces like the UK, Australia and Germany. Like Nikki, Marilyn is a story that’s growing an audience here and abroad.
Isis saw sales from the campaign early on. But when I gave it away there was a surge of downloads and likes on Facebook on Isis and Isis related titles.

I’m very pleased with the results of both campaigns. For a guy who produced books on a shoestring, and only used blogger, twitter and Facebook for promotion I feel I made a strong impact in the eBook marketplace.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shawn's advice to new writers

A lot of people walk into publishing thinking it’s full of glamour and glitz. They dream of book signings, movie deals, and million dollar advances. However many are so caught up in the fantasy they don’t want to see the harsh realities in the quest to get published. So I’m giving the newbies some tips that will help them survive in the publishing world.

You are not all that, and your story is not that great. I run into a lot of first-time authors and quite a few full of themselves. They think because they've finished their first or second a manuscript they're the next great American novelist with a potential best seller which will sell a million copies and will be made into a blockbuster movie. And in a lot of cases their story is the worst thing to hit paper.

 Just because an author has written their first book doesn't mean they know anything about publishing. Nor does it mean they know how to write. While a first-time writer may have talent, they need to be willing to learn what they have to do to hone their craft and sharpen their skills. That's going to require humility. A lot of humility. 

Listen to people. A lot  of first-time writers often dismiss anyone who tries to tell them about the pitfalls and roadblocks in the publishing industry. This hubris leads to many authors being taken advantage of by scammers like scam agents who charge reading fees,  scam publishers like PublishAmerica, and paying for things like marketing packages who blitz people with spam. 

When a seasoned publishing pro is trying to tell an author something it's for their own good. Seasoned publishing vets  like those at Absolute Write and Writer Beware have seen it all and want to keep new writers from making costly mistakes.

Have an open mind. Until the book is in print, nothing is final. A writer has to have an open mind and be willing to make changes to their work if they want to sell to a trade publisher. Sure a writer's book is their baby, but in trade publishing, it's a product. And a product has to be packaged to target an audience.  

Learn how to take criticism. Not everyone is going to like a writer's story. Don't take it personal. What one person doesn't like another may love.

Be prepared for rejection. Being a writer is fun on the creative side. But the business side it’s rough. A first-time writer will experience rejection. Lots of rejection. Get used to hearing no. And remember it takes a lot of Nos, to get to Yes if you want to publish a book with a trade publisher.

Write more than one book. Some newbies write one book and think they’re ready to get published. Big Mistake. Usually the first book a new writer finishes is absolute garbage.

Seriously take that first book, print it up, turn it sideways and shove it straight into a trunk in the attic. Then get to work on a second book. And a third one. And after that give those second and third books to some friends. Then a writer is ready to submit a title to trade publishers.

On another note, a writer needs more than one book if they’re going to submit to trade publishers.

Get some credits. A writer needs to get some credits under their belt if they’re going to submit books to trade publishers. Write a blog, or articles for websites, a local paper. Volunteer to contribute to a local paper. Do Something to show people that the writer has been published somewhere. Submitting cold with no credits is the fastest way to get rejected in this business.

Don’t quit your day job. Most writers, even best-selling ones have day jobs. It’s their primary source of income. Writing is creative but not very lucrative.

Save your money. Postage, paper, toner and internet access all cost money. Lots of Money. And a writer is going to need a lot of cash to pursue the road to publication with a trade publisher. Which is why a smart writer does not quit their day job to pursue writing. 

You will not get rich. The average advance for a first-time writer is $5000. Most writers make most of their money from their day jobs. Others make their money from seminars and presentations. And with the publishing industry still recovering from the 2008 collapse the days of million dollar advances are over. Right now most writers make enough money from their books to supplement the salaries they get from their day jobs.

Follow the instructions. When querying publishers and literary agents follow the instructions. Do not send e-mail when they request snail mail. If they tell you to send them a one-page query letter DO IT. You are not impressing anyone by breaking the rules. Seasoned editors and agents have seen it all, and have rejected people bigger than you. Follow the instructions to the letter.

DO NOT CALL ANYONE! In publishing, calling people is a NO NO! People who call  publishers and literary agents AUTOMATICALLY GET REJECTED! Agents and publishers want to see how strong the writing is. Writing is something that can’t be sold through cold calling. If it’s not on the page no one cares.

Make sure to enclose a Self-Addressed-Stamped envelope with any correspondence. If a writer is lucky enough to get a request for a manuscript or a partial from an agent or a publisher, they should send a self-addressed-stamped envelope so they can respond to you. If submitting paritals, a writer should send enough postage to get the materials back. Agents and editiors will appreciate this

Learn how to be patient. It takes a LONG time for some agents and publishers to get back to a writer after requesting material. Some take a week. Others take several months. And I’ve had a few that took a year or more to get back to me! Publishing is a long-haul business that requires someone to have tremendous patience. Nothing in this industry happens overnight.

It’ll be a while before you get published with a trade publisher. Publishing is a process that takes YEARS. If a writer is working towards a trade publication, the query process to literary agents can take a two years or more of. And that’s if the writer has publishing credits. If the writer is a first-time author with no credits, then it’s going to be longer than that. And if an author is lucky enough to get picked up by a trade publisher there’s still the process of editing, proofreading, page layout cover design and marketing before the book reaches the market.

Most publishers don’t support first-time authors. Publishers primarily focus on promoting two parts of their catalogs. The Frontlist- which consists of best-selling authors and the Backlist- Books that are proven sellers like literary classics and refrences like dictionaries and thesauruses.

Those new writers who are lucky enough to get a book published, are in the middle of the list. Midlist books get no support in terms of promotion or advertising from the publishing house. They don’t get the big displays in the front of the store or the book signings at the Barnes & Noble. Usually, a first-time author is lucky if they can find their book in a bookstore. Most times their titles are just listings on Amazon.

When it comes to promotion it’s usually up to the author to spend their time (and their advance money) to get the word out to readers about their new book.

Publishing a book is just the start. Promotion is the real work. A lot of first-time writers think their work is done when the first book is published WRONG! The work is just getting started. When a first book is published a writer has to work harder than they did before. That means hustling to local bookstores to get them to stock the book, trying to arrange book signings and trying to get reviews, and sales. And a writer has to do all this while putting together their second and third books.

Ninety percent of books fail. Close to two million titles were published last year. Most were taken out of print in six months. Others in the remaining ten percent that survived were out of print in five years.

Reviews are hard to get. Many writers dream of getting their books reviewed in places like the New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly. In reality, it’s impossible for even the most established writer to get a review in these venues. In most cases, a writer will get reviews from book clubs, local papers and bloggers.

Reviews don’t sell books. A book review may make a writer feel good, but overall it has next to no impact on sales. Why? Because many reviews are in places where they aren’t read. Most Book reviews in major newspapers and magazines are in the sections of the Sunday paper that’s ignored by readers.And that’s if those papers and Magazines still have book sections.

A Book review is when part of a press kit can persuade a bookstore to stock a book, but on its own it has no impact on the sales of a first-time writer.

Books by first-time books don’t get top priorty at bookstores. The bulk of sales at bookstores are Classics, Nonfiction, and frontlist titles from best-selling authors. Books by midlist authors are usually displayed on the bookshelves spine out in alphabetical order. A writer has to make their titles known in the marketplace so customers can find them.

Awards don’t sell books. Many National Book award winners and critically acclaimed books only sold 200 copies. A first-time writer’s focus should be sales. Sales are going to get an author a second book contract, if an author can build enough of an audience they can actually make enough money to equal a day job salary.

No one famous wants to read your book. Celebrities, best-selling authors, don’t read unsolicited material. Many fear lawsuits and won’t read anything unless it’s given to them by their agent. And they won’t touch anything without a signed written release.

Your chances of a movie deal are slim to none. In order for a book to get a deal for a movie adaptation, it has to sell a million or more copies. The average trade book barely sells its initial 5,000 print run and the average self-published book is barely 100 copies. So the chances of a book getting a film deal are very low. If a book sells out its print run, it’s considered a success.

There is no fast track to success. In publishing, no one becomes an overnight sensation. And when they usually are, they’re found out to be a fraud like James Frey or Kavvya Vishwanthan. Anyone who promises an author a faster way to success like paid reviews, paid awards, e-mail blitzes to top people in the media and chances to be read by a best-selling author is usually out to swindle a writer out of their money. Don’t let anyone fool you, publishing is a long hard journey. A savvy writer has to watch out for the potholes, pitfalls and obstacles on the road if they’re going to be successful.


*NOTE*
Stats for the YA eBook exclusives and the eBooks for Under a Buck Campaign will be coming next week! Stay tuned to see how many books were read over this summer!

Oh and just a few days left for those YA eBook exclusives and eBooks for Under a Buck
So get yours NOW!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How Screenwritng Taught me to Become a Better Novelist.

The novel and the screenplay are two different types of storytelling. Each has its own set of rules and protocols and its own set of nuances. However, the techniques from the craft of screenwriting can be effectively adapted to the novel and lead to a better overall reading experience for the book reader.

I’ve learned a lot of things in the five years I’ve been studying screenwriting and it’s helped me to become a better novelist. Books have to compete with movies, television and the Internet, I knew I had find a more effective approach to writing stories that keeps the audience compelled and turning pages.

Screenwriting taught me to start a story with bang. No taking four or five pages to introduce everyone, no long paragraphs of exposition about the past. A strong inciting incident grabs the reader and draws them right into the story from page one and keeps them reading until the final page of the book.

Screenwriting taught me to make the audience ask questions instead of answering them. Traditional writing often has an Omniscient third-person narrator in the distance who explains everything to the audience. That’s BORING to me. I like my audiences to think, observe and draw their own conclusions about what’s going on. What I love about screenwriting is that it forces the audience to ask questions about what’s going on. This gets the audience actively involved in the story instead of passively watching.

Screenwriting taught me how to focus on action FIRST. Writing in first-person, I often wrote character-driven stories which was great. However, I tended to focus a lot on flowery prose to establish a character’s “Voice”. This often led to long expositional paragraphs filled with lots of backstory. However, after I started incorporating screenwriting techniques into my writing style, I began to focus more on the actions of the character to get the story moving. Action defines character, and what a character does in a story is far more important than what they say.

Screenwriting taught me how to SHOW and not TELL. Because screenwriters have to use the least amount of words to tell the most amount of story, there’s no room for filler. Showing what a person does through action has an impact on the reader and makes them imagine what’s going on NOW. On the other hand TELLING a story is passive and puts the reader at a DISTANCE from what’s going on.

Screenwriting taught me to focus on the NOW. Good stories have a sense of urgency; that urgency compels a reader to involve themselves in the action going on and invest their emotions in the events of the characters’ lives. When a writer puts a story in a NOW perspective it makes the reader feel that what’s being written is relevant to them. This active style of writing is extremely STRONG and puts the reader right in the middle of the ACTION going on in the middle of the story to the point where they can’t put the book down until the end.

Screenwriting helped me learn how to write leaner paragraphs. In screenwriting a writer is limited to 110 or 120 pages to tell their story so it’s paramount to tell a story with an economy of words. So an author has to cut things down to the bare bones on details and focus only on the most important things in the story. There’s no room for long paragraphs with flowery prose in a screenplay; an author has four to five lines max in a paragraph to describe what’s going on. Lean tight paragraphs create a faster pace and make a book flow like water from first page to the last.

Screenwriting helped me wlearn how to write shorter chapters. When I started writing in the early 90's, my chapters were 20-30 pages with lots of exposition and filler. Now they’re four or five pages on average and ten pages max. Shorter chapters quicken the pace of the story and help the action in the book move much faster for the reader.

Screenwriting showed me how to tighten up dialogue. When I wrote my earlier stories, characters talked, and talked and talked and couldn’t SHUT UP. Sometimes they’d talk for four or five pages. However, after I started studying screenwriting, I learned to get right to the point. Good dialogue moves the plot along, bad dialogue make a story CRAWL.

Screenwriting taught me when ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. In a novel, a writer can go on and on in a chapter for pages with exposition, prose and dialogue. However, in a screenplay a writer is limited to 110-120 pages so every detail has to be crucial towards moving the story ahead. Screenwriting taught me how to end a chapter in a novel when an event was done and start the next chapter towards building towards the next event. I learned to keep details simple and focus only on stuff things kept people reading the next chapter.

Screenwriting taught me to write more visually. Good writing puts pictures in the readers’ head and makes them put “the movie in their mind.” As they go from chapter to chapter they unconsciously imagine scenes from the story described by the words; this makes what’s going on real to them and involves them in the story. Moreover, these visuals people imagine create a richer reading experience for the reader filled with sights sounds, smells and life.

Screenwriting taught me to rethink structure and form. Usually, each chapter of a novel is tightly connected to the others. If one component of the plot doesn’t work, the entire book falls apart. It can be downright frustrating to restructure an entire novel to make events flow smoothly into each other between drafts.

However, the writing process for screenplays is more modular. While the structure of the plot is usually rigid, the events constructed around the framework of the plot are extremely flexible. Scenes and dialogue can be moved around, swapped out or replaced without doing damage to the pace and flow of the overall story.

What I learned from screenwriting made me rethink writing stories with events wrapped too tightly around the plot and focus more on making sure that the structure of the plot (who, what, when, where, and why) was strong enough to withstand modifying the form of events around it. Thanks to this modular approach I’ve swapped out and replaced beginnings middles and endings in stories in Isis, The Cassandra Cookbook, The Temptation of John Haynes and All About Marilyn wi\ut damaging the structure of the plot.

Screenwriting taught me to focus on the reader, not myself. When novelists usually create their
stories they tend to focus what’s important to them. Writing novels is a very personal and intimate process. A screenwriter on the other hand is creating a product to be sold to others, so they tend to focus on what’s important to the reader. Because screenwriters are more about selling they’re much more open about their creative process. With the writing process more open, a writer has to listen to the audience.

What most novelists forget is that books are products, and they need to be presented in a way that makes them accessible to the largest audience possible.

Learning the ins and outs of Screenwriting has made me a bit more sensitive to providing readers with a more satisfying reading experience in my novels. My hope is that the approaches I’ve learned from screenwriting leads to a better quality novel and a better overall reading experience.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Only two weeks left for the YA eBook exclusives and eBooks for under a Buck

The YA eBook Exclusive campaign and eBooks for under a Buck promotion will be ending soon. So if you want to download a free copy of the YA eBook exclusive series on Smashwords, DO IT NOW. The free eBooks will be going up to 99 cents on September 1st.



And if readers want to save close to 66% off the regular price on my eNovels, I’d advise them to buy now. All About Marilyn and The Temptation of John Haynes will be going up to their regular retail price of $1.99 $2.99 respectively on September 1st.  


Shawn's FREE YA eBook exclusives on Smashwords:

The Sneakers
All About Nikki- Three Episodes from the Fabulous First Season (sneak Preview of September's upcoming paperback All About Nikki- The Fabulous First Season)
 
Shawn's FREE YA eBook exclusives for itunes:
 
The Sneakers
Baptism of Blood
 
Shawn's eBooks for under a Buck for Kindle:
 
Shawn's eBooks for under a Buck for Nook:
 
Shawn's eBooks for under a Buck for itunes:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PublishAmerica And J.K. Rowling- What writers need to know about Celebrities and Unsolicited Material


I was reading an article about a PublishAmerica scam where they told authors if they paid $49 to $69 fee that the publisher would present their books to best-selling author J.K.Rowling for her to read and give her opinion on. Many fell for the scam with hopes and dreams of being read by Rowling not knowing they’ve been conned out of their money.

Needless to say, Rowling is fighting back, filing a lawsuit against Publish America and sending them a Cease and Desist order through her attorney. PublishAmerica is a known disreputable business in the publishing industry. From their bad contracts, which tie up author rights for years, retail prices that are noncompetitive ($24.00 for a small paperback is common with them) and unethical business practices many smart authors know to avoid them at all costs.

What really irked me about this scam is how PublishAmerica misled writers. PublishAmerica promised authors something they knew they couldn’t deliver and couldn’t possibly deliver. J.K. Rowling is under contract to Scholastic in the U.S. and Bloomsbury in the UK. I doubt two of the biggest YA publishers in the world would want their best-selling author involved in reading material from a competitor while under contract with them.

And I doubt she’d want to be involved with a disreputable business like PublishAmerica. Hence why she’s taking legal action against PublishAmerica herself.

Here’s the truth regarding best-selling authors, celebrities and other famous people like J.K. Rowling: They don’t read unsolicited material. Period.

And their definition of unsolicited means anything not submitted to them through their agent or manager. This is the official policy stated on their their official website and the websites of their agents and managers.

The reason why best-selling authors and celebrities don’t read unsolicited material from writers is simple. They don’t want to get sued. Many an author or actor who just “took a look” at another person’s book or screenplay found themselves wrapped up in a lawsuit soon after they released a new book or starred in a new movie.

Why? Because the writer whose work they “looked at” said they stole their story.
The process for settling a copyright infringement suit is a long, bureaucratic process that can cost hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in court costs and legal fees. Many who wind up in a lawsuit settle out of court just to avoid the years and sometimes decades of legal wrangling which keeps them from making money on their properties and projects.

Which is why celebrities and best-selling authors like Rowling don’t read unsolicited material.
Usually all business dealings with a celebrity or a best-selling author like J.K. Rowling go through their agent. And their agent will not present them with another writers’ material unless they get the author to sign a release statement absolving them of all liability.

If an author sends a celebrity or best-selling author their work unsolicited it will wind up either:

a)      Marked Return to Sender and shipped back to the author unread,
b)      Thrown in the garbage.

When it comes to E-mails sent to celebrities and best-selling authors regarding unsolicited material they will wind up either:

a)      Marked Return to Sender and shipped back to the author unread,
b)      Deleted,
c)      Sent to a spam folder and then deleted.

Most authors and celebrities like J.K. Rowling don’t even open their own mail. It’s opened by assistants at a business office, where it’s screened for unwanted materials such as unsolicited material like manuscripts, synopses, and queries. So there will never be a chance that a manuscript from an unknown author will wind up on their desk.

And when it comes to unsolicited material no one is under any obligation to read it. Unsolicited queries, manuscripts, and synopses are like mail order catalogs. Just because someone sends a catalog out doesn’t obligate anyone to buy anything from it. Moreover, once it’s mailed out to the person who it’s addressed to it becomes their property. They can do with it as they please.

Which is why it’s foolish for an author to pay someone like PublishAmerica money $49 to $69 to send out unsolicited material. Since best-selling authors like J.K. Rowling have a policy of sending back unsolicited material unread or discarding it, spending $49 to $69 to have them send out unsolicited books is like taking money and throwing it in the trash.

Writers need to understand that publishing is not an easy career path. It’s harder to get a book published, and even harder than that for a writer to get a book to sell. In a business where 90 percent of the almost two million books published every year fail to find an audience there is no fast track to success, no way to pay to play. Finding a marketplace for a book isn’t about what you know or who you know. It’s about writing well.

Anyone who wants to be a writer or a self-publisher needs to understand this is long road full of pain and frustration. It’ ain’t yellow and there ain’t no riches. Don’t quit your day job. In fact, get a second one. You’re gonna need it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cassandra Cookbook Easter Eggs

The first draft of The Cassandra Cookbook was completed in 2004. It was about 350 pages and 71,000 words. At the request of some literary agents who felt the story didn’t have enough detail, beefed up the books descriptions to make the original 87,000 word manuscript.


The original title of the novel was Integrity Sucks. I felt it was too cynical and changed it to The Cassandra Cookbook.

Originally, the main focus of the book was supposed to be the Simon James character. I switched the focus to Cassandra Lee to craft a more balanced storyline and to appeal to female readers.

Cassandra is the fourth novel I’ve written using a revolving first-person perspective. The first is the unpublished The Changing Soul, The second is Isis and the third is The Temptation of John Haynes. I often use revolving first person for novels because I feel it allows the reader become involved with the story and to make observations about what’s going on.

I started writing the Cassandra Cookbook in November of 2003 after a major period of depression. I took a receptionist job at a law firm in 2002 where things didn’t work out. After I lost that job, family and friends blamed me for that failure, and I blamed myself. It was only years later that I learned I was discriminated against by that employer and that “bad attitude” people thought I had was me reacting to the racist treatment I was receiving on the job. Looking back, I should have known something was wrong when they were talking about hiring someone else when I was at the interview. 90 days later they offered me the receptionist position as a consolation three months later. Lesson Learned for me from those experiences were to decline any job offer from employers talking about hiring someone else or that doesn’t’ come within two weeks.

Dealing with so much stress, I wanted some sunshine in my life. Which is why The Cassandra Cookbook has such an upbeat whimsical tone. The mood I wanted to set for Cassandra was similar to 1960’s Doris-Day/Audrey Hepburn movies. Cassandra was supposed to be cute and sophisticated with a bit of quirkiness; a romantic comedy with its own unique visual style and style of humor. I really needed to laugh then so I decided to write a comedy instead of my usual dark dramas.

While I was inspired by modern influences of films like Clockwatchers, Strictly Business, and The Frank Grimes episode of The Simpsons “Homer’s Enemy”, The Cassandra Cookbook was originally designed to be an African-American romantic comedy about the workplace in the style of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

I’ve always been a big fan of Billy Wilder’s films like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment. Wilder’s comedy was often subtle and sophisticated with a deeper underlying social message commenting on society between the lines of his stories.

With Cassandra I wanted to make a commentary about African-Americans in the workplace. Moreover, I wanted to make a commentary on ethics and getting ahead. So many people think it’s okay to get ahead at any price and will step on the next man to get that success. What they don’t consider is how other people pay for their actions.

ITC Foods is inspired by the black-owned Parks Sausage corporation.

Cassandra Lee is inspired by actress Salli Richardson. As I was planning the Cassandra Cookbook (Integrity Sucks then) I was stuck. One day in 2003 I was watching The Jamie Foxx Show in reruns and caught the episode Salli guested in and got so inspired I got a breakthrough on the development of the Cassandra Lee Character. I always saw great potential for comedy in Salli, and I always believed Wilder’s quirky comedy style would be a great fit for her sophisticated presence.

Salli Richardson is also the inspiration for the character E’steem in Isis and The Temptation of John Haynes. Yeah, I base a lot of characters on Salli. But that’s because she’s a great actress.

In the name Casandra Lee The reader can find Sara Lee, reference to Sara Lee baked goods.

The name Cassandra Lee is inspired by B-movie hostess Elvira and the Sara Lee bakery. Elvira’s real name is Cassandra Peterson, and I’ve always admired her efforts as a businesswoman. Over 25 years she’s turned the Elvira character into a licensing and merchandising empire.

The story of the Cassandra bakery is loosely inspired by the true story of the Sara Lee Bakery. The Sara Lee bakery was originally named after the owner’s daughter. After reading about the history of the Sara Lee bakery, and how the father sold off the store I came up with the idea of a family business being sold off to a corporation.

I set the story of The Cassandra Cookbook in Downtown Brooklyn because I feel that shopping district is highly underrated. I thought it was a great place to tell a unique New York Story. The outer boroughs like The Bronx and Brooklyn have some great neighborhoods, but rarely does anyone pay attention to them because everyone is so focused on Manhattan. I felt it was time to give Downtown Brooklyn its due.

Cassandra was originally supposed to live in Greenpoint Brooklyn, but after my sister and I took a trip to Brooklyn to go to the Department of Education we got lost and wound up in Brooklyn Heights. I fell in love with the brownstones and tree-lined streets there and changed the setting to that neighborhood. Brooklyn Heights is a great neighborhood with lots of unique shops and atmosphere. Very quiet and very serene.

Brooklyn Heights is actually the same neighborhood where The Huxtables lived in during the run of The Cosby show. Downtown Brooklyn is a short walk or drive away.

Cassandra’s pink Escalade is a car that reflects her character. It’s strong and stylish. The pink color represents her quirky style.

Cassandra’s bedroom is very significant to the story. A woman’s bedroom is her personal space, the one where she puts her personal touch on a home. It’s her comfort zone, where she expresses herself and where she feels most comfortable. This personal space is decorated with her accomplishments as a baker and shows how hardworking and creative she is.

When Cassandra moves out of the bedroom into the home office, it symbolizes how she is being taken out of her comfort zone. In the home office she has to adapt to a new approach to business. It’s only when she’s comfortable in the new business environment that she returns to the bedroom.

The color pink is used throughout Cassandra’s business because it’s considered soothing and relaxing. I read in an article that some insane asylums and prisons paint the walls of their institutions pink as a way to help control the inmates moods. I felt correlating pink with comfort food in retail would be

Cassandra’s best friend Molly Follows is inspired by actress Queen Latifah.

Molly’s restaurant Perch is inspired by many of the quirky shops I experienced while walking around DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn when I was going to a job interview in 1999. It’s a great neighborhood with very unique and original stores and quirky restaurants with great atmosphere. DUMBO is place I’d recommend people check out whenever they’re in New York City. Highly underrated.

The character of Gerald Davis was based on several college educated black men I had the displeasure of working with at STRIVE and other jobs I had. Many brothas with college degrees I’ve run into are often arrogant, condescending and conceited. I thought that this kind of brotha would make for an excellent antagonist for Cassandra. I also felt Gerald would be a nice contrast to Simon and Carlton, who are down-to-earth easygoing guys.

Cassandra’s fiancĂ© Gerald’s attitude toward homosexuality is a statement I wanted to make about the issue of Down Low in the Black community. I wanted readers to understand the issue of down low men centers around honesty, not homosexuality.

I felt it was dishonest for a man to mislead a woman by pursuing a committed relationship with her while pursuing men on the side. A relationship to me is about two people coming together to know each other intimately. If one of the partners isn’t being open and honest about their intentions from the start then the relationship is doomed to fail.

I also wanted to make a statement about how Down Low men had a sense of entitlement. Many black males who operate on the Down Low are extremely selfish and think the world should revolve around them. I feel it takes a tremendous amount of hubris for a man to believe that people have to share him in order to be involved in a committed relationship with them. Moreover, these men are so selfish that they don’t consider the risks they’re putting both their male and female partners at for veneral diseases and HIV.

Gerald is the third man to get kicked in the nuts in one of my stories. The others are Adam The Clown in All About Marilyn and Lucifer towards the end of The Temptation of John Haynes.

Carlton Lee is inspired by the icon Harry Belafonte. I wanted Carlton to be a rock solid salt-of-the earth guy with a big heart and a kind soul, a neighborhood guy who took pride in what he did and how he did it. His shop wasn’t just a store, but a part of himself. Harry Belafonte to me seemed to be that kind of guy in real life.

Helen Lee is inspired by the legendary Dihann Caroll. Dihann Caroll has an elegance and sophistication that I’ve always admired. Plus Helen’s ambition for success was a great contrast to Carlton’s easy everyday approach to business.

Simon James is a character based on myself. The character’s career at a Midtown Manhattan 9 to 5 office job is something I always wanted to have for myself, but could never really achieve after college.

The Dead End Road sign in Simon’s cubicle symbolizes his frustration at his lack of growth at ITC.

Simon’s creativity and imagination are shown in his sarcastic celebration of 9 years at ITC by putting a candle in a muffin and making a wish.

The Simon James character is supposed to be an everyman, a regular brotha everyone can relate to and identify with. Joe Average. He’s a clean-cut guy who plays by the book. He was supposed to grow into a guy who starts using his creativity and imagination to make things work for him.

Simon James is actually the second of three characters based on myself, The first character based on me is John Haynes, in The temptation of John Haynes, and the third is Eric James in All About Marilyn.

The name Simon is my father’s name and my middle name. I wanted to pay tribute to my father with this character.

Laura Charles is inspired by actress Jada Pinkett. As I was writing Laura I imagined Jada Pinkett playing her. Laura was supposed to provide a contrast to Simon’s straight-laced ethical approach to business, and a foil to Simon’s boss David comedically.

The name Laura Charles is from Vanity’s character in the movie The Last Dragon. The Last Drargon is one of my favorite movies. I always go out of my way to mention The Last Dragon and House Party in my novels in some way because both are unique one-of-a-kind films I feel everyone should see at least once in their lives.

Rob Carson is inspired by actor Charles S. Dutton. I’ve loved Dutton’s work since I first saw him in Roc back in the day. I thought he’d be great to voice a tough yet friendly boss.

Rob’s character is neutral and this neutrality is reflected in his grey suits and transparent desk and office furniture.

David Bennett is inspired by actor Keith David. I’ve always been a fan of David’s work and I’ve always wanted to see how he’d handle being a straight man in a comedy.

David’s greasy hair symbolizes how slimy and dishonest he is about business. David is a shallow character who focuses on external image than internal character. That’s why he wears the designer suits It’s also why his office is so uninspired. He’s a man of few ideas and little imagination.

I always thought Charles Dutton and Keith David would make for a wonderful comedy team not unlike the the late Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy in Trading Places. I often imagined them trading barbs with lightning fast wit.

Smitty is inspired by actor Richard Roundtree. He’s supposed to be an old-school savvy business guy with a bit of smooth style.

#3C is the apartment I lived in at 3430 Park Avenue in The Bronx.

167th Street is the street I used to live on when I lived at 3430 Park Avenue in The Bronx.

The Cassandra Cookbook was the first book to get serious attention from literary agents. After submitting over 400 e-mail queries over 2004-2006 I got over 25 requests for partials and one request for a full manuscript.

Unfortunately they were all rejections.

I wanted to self publish the book in 2007, but my six-year-old Dell Inspiron 2500 died. Being broke and jobless, I had to revise the book by hand using loose-leaf paper.

In 2008 when I finally found a new job I invested the paychecks from the first 90 days of working towards self-publishing The Cassandra Cookbook. I spent over two thousand dollars promoting Cassandra, giving out copies to vendors, sending books to book clubs and bookstores.

For all my efforts the Cassandra Cookbook was a critical success, but a financial failure. To date, The Cassandra Cookbook is the worst performing title of all the books I’ve self-published with just six copies sold.

The lessons I learned from the failed Cassandra Campaign were not to be so generous in handing out books. Especially when I found out one of the copies I gave out wound up in the trash.

I also learned to be a bit more thorough on editing. And to be more careful with cover design. The Cassandra Cover is reviled by the public especially most African-Americans. I caught so much hell for making the Cassandra character blonde and light skinned. Many called me color struck, which I took extreme offense to.

I also learned not to be so eager in promoting a book. Sometimes something we love the public hates. Since the failure of The Cassandra Cookbook I’ve scaled back my promotions to a bare minimum.

I was deeply hurt by the poor reception The Cassandra Cookbook got. Even more disappointed from the reception it got African-American readers. Many thought it was an actual cookbook and not a novel despite the fact that it was denoted right under my name. I thought brothers and sisters were smart enough to understand a figure of speech or a tongue-in-cheek reference, but at the Harlem Book fair I was proven wrong. Two years straight.

I had high hopes for Cassandra’s story and I really believed in it. I thought Black folks would like a quirky intelligent comedy with a positive message. Unfortunately, Most didn’t get the humor, and many more just didn’t like the way it was written. Most missed the visual imagery on the surface and the literary subtext buried beneath the storyline. I don’t know if I want to ever write a full-length comedy novel ever again.

Because of the poor performance of Cassandra, I delayed the eBook release for three years. I couldn’t stand to look at Cassandra’s manuscript for a long time. It took a lot for me to go back to those pages and re-edit them to prepare the eBook for release this year.

Now that I’ve finished re-editing for the eBook I’m taking the original Cassandra Cookbook out of print and putting it out of its misery. After three years with no sales, I feel there’s no need in throwing good money after bad. The revised eBook will remain in print for those who want it re-titled A Recipe for $ucce$$. You can get a copy for free on Smashwords.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Recipe For $ucce$$ Now available on Smashwords and eReaders


A Recipe For $ucce$$ Now Available on Smashwords.

A pinch of hard work.

A dash of Determination.

A Recipe for Sucess.

 Cassandra Lee’s lifelong dream is to take over the Downtown Brooklyn bakery with her name on it when her parents retired. Her dream turns into a nightmare near the eve of her wedding when she learns corporate giant ITC Foods has plans for the store and her low down down low fiancĂ© Gerald is caught in the arms of another man.

Cassandra perseveres, acting as her parents’ agent working with ITC rep Simon James to complete the deal. As their professional relationship gets personal, Simon reveals a secret that devastates Cassandra. Sending Cassandra over the edge, Simon must come up with a plan to heal her broken heart and make her dreams come true.


Many of you probably remember the synopsis for this paperback on The Cassandra Cookbook. Sadly, it was a commercial failure. Many brothers and sisters thought it was an actual cookbook, others just couldn’t get into it being so pink. Everyone hated the cover. It was a book that helped me through some rough times. But it endured rough treatment ever since the day it was released. Turns out Black folks didn’t get my sense of humor. Cassandra was supposed to be a comedy but no one laughed.

The book is critically acclaimed but publicly reviled. So I’m taking it out of print so I can focus on better selling books. But as I put The Cassandra Cookbook paperback out of its misery, I’m sending it off as an eBook. A FREE eBook. That’s right you can revel in Shawn’s biggest literary commercial failure without paying a dime! (Well, on Smashwords. People who want Kindle and Pubit! versions will have to pay money!)

This new edition has been revised and repackaged. This new version has had most of the typos removed and all mentions of the word “digress” have been deleted. Also the descriptions have been toned down as not to be so heavy-handed. The sentences are shorter.
So pick up a copy of A recipe For $ucce$$...IF YOU DARE! 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Diversity in Comics- There's a right and wrong way to do it.


I’m all for Diversity in comic books. It warms my heart when I see a new comic book character that’s Black, Hispanic, Asian, Gay or Lesbian.

Except when it’s done in a half-assed way.

And the comic book industry has been doing a terrible job of trying to diversify itself for the past 10 years. Instead of creating new minority characters, they’ve been shoehorning minorities into the roles of popular White characters.

A couple of years ago in an effort to diversify its superhero ranks, DC Comics killed off veteran Superhero the Blue Beetle and replaced him a Hispanic teenager Jamie Reyes.

A year after that DC killed off cult favorite superhero Firestorm and replaced him replaced with a Black teenager Jason Rusch.

And around that time, DC also introduced an Asian Male version of its Atom character Ryan Choi. However, as that character was finding his voice and beginning to surpass his white male predecessor in popularity, he was killed off.

And most recently in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man Peter Parker was killed off and replaced by Miles Morales, a half-black half-Puerto Rican character.

With the exception of Ryan Choi, readers were mostly turned off by these new minority characters. Why?

It’s tokenism plain and simple.

Instead of being Firestorm, he’s “Black Firestorm” Instead of being Blue Beetle, he’s “Hispanic Blue Beetle” and instead of being Spider-Man he’s “Half-black-half-Puerto Rican Spider-Man” Color comes before storytelling and character development.

Sorry, but diversity isn’t creating a Black, Hispanic, or Asian version of a White character. It’s creating original characters of color and sexual orientation and allowing them an opportunity to access the comic book marketplace. Moreover, it’s about allowing women and minority writers and artists an opportunity to find employment in the comic book industry.

These half-assed attempts at diversity by comic book publishers are a reflection of the real problem within the comic book industry: The lack of African-American, women, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities working behind the scenes. 40 years since the introduction of characters of color on the pages of comics and the creative people at the keyboards writing the stories and drawing the pictures are still 95% white and 95% male.

And that’s why their attempts at making minority characters fail so miserably.

Want to know what makes for great minority characters? Want to know what would make the comic book industry more diverse?

Hiring women and talent of color who can write characters who have a great personality, character traits and experiences the reader can relate to and identify with, and a “voice” that speaks to reader.

As an African-American writer who has written characters of color, I focus more on developing a character’s “voice” and personality before I think of their skin color. Because I understand it’s that “voice” that’s going to tell the story and allow the reader to explore a character’s culture.

And along with that “voice” I understand what’s going to make any character relatable to the reader are the kind of internal character traits they have, not their external skin color. I’d rather a reader discover that John Haynes to be a good man, Marilyn Marie to be a strong intelligent woman, Nikki Desmond to be a rich spoiled brat, or that Isis is awkward and inadequate than to just see them as Black. I feel those internal traits are what the reader will identify with when they read the story and that’s what’s going to endear them to the character and make them care enough about them to buy their stories.

Serious efforts at diversity educate the reader on the culture of another community and help the reader gain a broader understanding of the world they live in. It’s not something that can be cut and pasted in a slap-dash fashion like comic book editors are doing right now. Effective efforts at diversity require organic development through careful planning, solid storytelling and the support of editorial to allow these characters enough time to discover their own audience.

If the comic book industry were serious about diversity on the pages of their comic books, they’d be hiring more women and minority writers and artists behind the scenes to write and draw the stories. Then they’d let those women and minority writers and artists create some new minority characters and let those characters find an audience on their own instead of forcing people of color into roles that don’t fit them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Katharyn Stockett needs HELP

Kathryn Stockett, author of the best-selling book The Help says things were SO HARD for her as a writer. The Help was only rejected only 60 times before Penguin picked it up.


Wow. Only sixty rejections? On a first novel before getting offered a book contract? That’s hardship?

Please.

Sixty rejections is a warm-up for me. For most newbie writers who are submitting a first book, sixty rejections is just a start.

If she got two rejections that would be something to tell a story about. But Sixty? On fiction? The hardest books to sell in trade publishing?

Come on.

For everyone else the query process for books is BRUTAL and even the most experienced writers with a series of writing credits and an MFA send over a hundred or more query letters to literary agents and editors at trade publishing houses before anyone requests sample chapters or if they’re lucky a manuscript.

My first book The Changing Soul in 2000 got no takers after 100 requests. It only got two requests for partials.

I couldn’t get a publishing professional to read my second book, Isis in 2001.

My third book, The Cassandra Cookbook got rejected 400 times from 2004-2005. And that’s after over 25-30 submissions of partials and one request for the whole manuscript.

And my fourth book, The Temptation of John Haynes was rejected by over 500 publishing professionals in 2006.

I won’t even write about the shellacking All About Marilyn got when I submitted that for queries. That was painful.

Seriously, it’s easier to win the lottery than get a book contract with a trade publisher. And it’s even easier to get hit by lightning than get a book contract on a first novel. Most-first time authors can’t get fiction read by an agent let alone an editor at a publishing house. Most publishing pros don’t want to take a risk on a first-time author, especially if they’re writing fiction. They’re untested. Unproven. They don’t have an audience or a platform. It’s a huge risk for a trade house to risk money on an advance and a print run on a first-timer.

And nine times out of ten times they lose on the bet. Million dollar advances on the books of a dozen or so first-time writers whose books tanked are part of what caused the collapse of the publishing industry in 2008.

But Kathryn Stockett thinks it’s so hard to get a book published after sixty rejections. On a first novel. In the aftermath of the collapse of the publishing industry.

Someone give this woman a CLUE.

I really think the author of The Help really takes for granted the opportunities she was blessed with. Five books and seventeen years since I hung up my shingle as a professional writer, I still don’t have a contract at a major publishing house. I don’t have a best-seller with the New York Times. I don’t have a movie deal. I’m still free-lancing and self-publishing building my audience on the underground circuit.

And all Kathryn Stockett got was a book and a movie deal on a first novel after only sixty rejections.

I find it ironic how Kathryn Stockett wanted to write a story about black maids and the relationships they had with the white children they raised in the 1960’s but doesn’t understand how out of touch she is with how she relates to life in the rest of the world today.

But that’s White People.

If only some of those black people she interacted with while writing The Help had the courage to tell her about all the advantages of White Privilege she benefited from perhaps she could become enlightened enough write something a bit more thought provoking.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sad State of the Comic Book Fan

In a previous blog I wrote about the sad state of affairs in the comic book industry. As the industry continues on its downward spiral everyone from comic book publishers, to editors, to artists and comic book readers continues to live in a state of denial about their situation. And there is no one more in denial than the comic book fan.

The comic book fan is a masochist like no other. Through cancellations, reboots, retcons, revamps, and rewrites of their favorite characters they come back for the next issue. Kill off their favorite characters in one issue and they’ll be back to buy the next one to read about the funeral. And they’ll be back the month after that to read about the adventures of the new guy who puts on the suit and calls himself a superhero.

Comic fans endure years of poorly written poorly drawn comic books just to make sure they have all the issues and defend the creators who produce them no matter how inept they are. They’ll give up their money for medicine and food to cover the costs of these books in spite of numerous price increases, and endure all types of abuse at their local comic shop just to get them.

Overcharge them for action figures based on those poorly written poorly drawn comic books and they’ll be right back ready to buy more. A price of $20.99 per action figure before sales tax was enough to make me pause at Toys R Us last Christmas, and pass on stuff, but the diehard comic fan is willing to pay this and more.

Insult comic fans at panels at comic con and they’re ready to buy more comics. Where is Wally West? Where is Donna Troy? Why is there so much graphic violence in comic books today? Do you really need to show graphic mutilations, and bloody murders on panel? Why do you relaunch every two years or so? Why are women treated so poorly in comics? Why are most women in comics dressed like strippers? Why has there no editorial direction for comics over the past ten years? What’s being done to get comic books back into retail outlets outside of comic book stores? Comic editors, writers, and artists sit on these panels aloof and arrogant giving out evasive answers to fans’ questions in a condescending tone without a care for serving the customers who pay their salaries.

And while fans will complain about their mistreatment at a comic shop, a comicon panel, or a bad storyline on a message board, they never take any action to FORCE change. Like the meek sheep they are comic fans just get their money ready for more abuse next month instead of demanding better.

The sad part about watching the comic fan is how quickly their resolve breaks down. They’re so delusional they justify their actions through a series of excuses that only seem logical to them. If I don’t get this issue I won’t know what’s going on next month’s issue. If I don’t get it now, there’s a chance they won’t make another one. I have to have it. I need it. If I don’t have it I’ll pay more later on ebay.

Confront them about their compulsion and it’s like watching a drug addict in denial about their problem. I can stop at anytime. They’re just action figures. They’re just comics. I’m not married to them. I can stop at anytime.

But they can’t.

Seriously, I’d hate to see what a desperate comic fan would do if they couldn’t trade a bag of cheeseburgers for a comic book or some action figures.

I had a saying way back in 2002: Pee on a regular person’s leg and call it rain and they punch you in the face. Pee on a comic fan’s leg and they’ll buy an umbrella.

And that’s why nothing changes in the comic book industry. The customers are a bunch of gullible saps without the courage or resolve to FORCE the change that’s desperately needed for the industry to survive. If the comic fan would show a little courage by leaving the comics on the rack, leaving the action figures on the shelf, not going to the movies and walking away it would have a tremendous impact on the industry, and make all those involved in it stop taking their dwindling customer base for granted.

Unfortunately, too many comic fans don’t have the courage to come together and take the actions that will lead to real change in the comic book industry. If they don’t get this issue they won’t know what’s going on next month. If they don’t get it now, there’s a chance they won’t make another one. They have to have it. They need it. If they don’t have it they’ll pay more later on ebay.

FUCK THAT SHIT.

I’m the CUSTOMER. I’m ALWAYS RIGHT. You don’t make what I want I go to a COMPETITOR. If the comic book is GARBAGE, I don’t need the next issue. I don’t CARE what happens next month. I don’t give a SHIT what happens next month because it’s not what I WANT. I could give less than a flying FUCK if you make another one because this one is CRAP. I don’t need IT. If I don’t have it I won’t give a FUCK how much it costs on ebay because I’m not buying this SHIT if it comes GIFT WRAPPED.

That’s what Joe average says about products that don’t meet their standard. But the comic fan is in DENIAL about their POWER as a customer. They FEAR speaking up. They FEAR making DEMANDS of comic publishers and toy manufacturers to get what they WANT.

This FEAR allows the manufacturers and publishers to maintain power over them. It allows them to turn the tables on the customer and PUNISH them for exercising their POWER as CUSTOMERS. If the customers don’t buy it, they’ll cancel the comic. If the customers don’t buy the action figures they’ll cancel the toy line. If they don’t go see the movies they’ll stop making them.

And when the comic fan hears those threats they buckle under. They cave in. they open up their wallets and continue to fork over their hard-earned cash for products they DON’T WANT. Products that are MEDIOCRE and SUBSTANDARD.

And as long as there is a small group of willing to settle for less, the comic book industry has no real reason to change its approach to business. As long as the publishers can meet their minimum printing costs on the 50,000 copies they sell to 50,000 masochists, they could care less about the declining state of the industry. As long as they can continue to sell 10,000 action figures to 10,000 gullible suckers in a subscription, they don’t have to care about bringing their best to the marketplace in terms of quality.

Seriously, I keep wondering when will comic fans will do what I did back in 1995 with comics and what I'm doing with action figures this year and just say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH? When will comic fans realize they are the customer and they have the POWER to VOTE WITH THEIR WALLET? That if they WALK AWAY it speaks VOLUMES to the businesses that make comics and action figures?

Until the comic fan confronts their denial about the sad state of the comic book industry and takes their power as a customer nothing will change. The comic book publishers, toy manufacturers and other will continue to abuse them taking advantage of their compulsion and in some cases their addiction to their product. There has to come a point when the comic fan says Enough is Enough. No more. I have to change. The product has to change. Until the comic fan hits rock bottom the next revolution in the industry won’t be able to begin.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

DreamWorks The Help is the kind of Help I don't Need

DreamWorks Studios' The Help presents itself to the public as a movie about the relationships between white women and their maids in the civil rights period. It’s being heavily promoted in African-American and Latino neighborhoods as a Black movie about the Black experience during the Civil Rights period.


That’s false advertising.

The Help primarily focuses on the story of a spoiled Southern White plantation princess who comes back home from college not knowing what she wants to do with her life and aspires to be a writer. So to get her career started she EXPLOITS the struggles of the maids to have a story for her first book. Most of the movie is actually about the White people in the South, not African-Americans or the African-American experience.

Below the surface of the story of The Help is a patronizing view of black women and the Civil Rights struggle. From the clips I saw and the tone of a 20/20 piece about the film the movie’s “good” White characters present themselves with a condescending tone towards their African-American maids. There’s a humorous subtext to the film like they see the racism and struggle for Civil rights like a joke and don’t take it seriously.

Oh, the White women love their maids. They love them like mammies, not as human beings. They feel sorry for them but won’t lift a finger to help them overcome the racism they endure from the institutionally racist system Whites benefitted from since the inception of this country’s constitution. The entire film is an attempt at revisionist history and cinematic propaganda for White Liberals who don’t want to confront their own racist attitudes about African-Americans.

I am so tired of Hollywood patronizing black people with these movies about the po’ miserable downtrodden black folks. The Help tries to put a dignified veneer on the Mammy stereotype, but I can see right through it. It’s another cinematic pity party like Precious, The Blind Side and Monster’s Ball presenting Black people as pathetic victims who can’t move forward in their lives without the assistance of a Great White Savior™.

Sorry, but that’s not what the Civil Rights struggle was about then. And it’s not what it’s about now. Brothers and sisters who participate in the Civil Rights movement want economic and social equality, the ability to compete with Whites and everyone else on a level playing field. Brothers and Sisters who fight for Civil Rights want to stand on their own two feet as men and women without the assistance of anyone. It is a fight for equality in the job market, the court system, the arts and in the representation of our image on stage and in screen.

And if I’m about participating in that struggle for economic and social equality I have to support products that empower brothers and sisters not tear them down.

And that’s why I won’t be buying a movie ticket to support the box-office of The Help. Instead, I’ll be helping the brothers and sisters who want to make quality black films by buying a DVD copy of Ava Duvernay’s I Will Follow, a critically acclaimed film written, directed, and produced by African-Americans, and distributed by African-Americans. I’m urging everyone else in the Black community to do the same.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Unemployed Black Man’s Story

I’ve been unemployed for close to three years now. What truly aggravates me are the generalizations and judgments people make about people like myself who have been unemployed long-term.


I get no pleasure out of being unemployed. Since I lost my job, my life has been filled with stress, pressure and frustration. It’s been nerve-wracking trying to budget my savings since my unemployment ran out in October 2010. I have bouts of extreme anxiety and tension thinking about what the next day will bring and worrying about how to stretch a dollar until I get that next paying job.

Some would say that being out of work for close to three years that I’m lazy and I don’t want a job. Not so. I’d take any job if it were offered to me. I have no qualms about taking a job in a fast-food or a retail. When I first got out of college my first job was working in a supermarket. Unfortunately, in today’s job market retail and fast food places frown on hiring college graduates because they’re taught how to THINK. And Fast food and retail want people who will OBEY and follow orders.

And they also don’t want college graduates around talking about workplace safety, sexual harassment, living wages or that U word- UNION.

Others would say I was sponging off unemployment insurance and taking a 99 week vacation. Not so. when I was collecting unemployment for the 99 weeks there was no vacation. Since the day I lost my job in 2008, I’ve been looking for work intensely, putting in applications and sending resumes wherever I could send them every week. I went to interviews, but got no callbacks. And as the recession worsened throughout 2010 and into 2011 I soon found that the want ads were the same postings every week.

Then there are those who say I should get training for another career. I went to training at the Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center for 16 weeks for PC repair. Scored high on the A+ Certification exam in November of 2009.

And I’m still looking for a job that allows me to utilize my new skills. So far, no takers.

So while I’m still looking for a job that allowed me to utilize my new skills I taught myself self-publishing. Working for myself and other authors, free-lance I have gained four years of experience in doing page layouts, cover design and can turn raw materials into a finished paperback in 30 days or less. I’ve published four of my own books and assisted in the publication of four books for other authors. All satisfied customers.

And this year I learned how to publish eBooks. After helping a national bestselling author get their eBooks to market, I’ve been working on a summer campaign to target young adult readers using eBooks.

I haven’t been sponging on the government dime. I’m not taking a vacation. Since October of 2008 I’ve been working hard. Developing marketable skills. Networking. Looking for work.

And realizing I have to be more creative about it than searching the want ads or going to job fairs. 

So I really take offense when people say that long-term unemployed people like myself are lazy and don’t want to work.

I realize that in a post 9/11 great recession world that the traditional methods of pounding the pavement and sending out resumes are a waste of time. With many of the job listings repeating themselves and others telling unemployed people not to apply, It’s going to take imagination and creativity for an out-of-work person to like myself to find the hidden opportunities in the job market.

And employers are going to have to understand that most people like myself aren’t going to have the traditional work experience records over the past three years. With the job market being a mess for so long, people are surviving any way they can. Odd jobs, free-lancing, hustling, self-employment, this is how people find work and pay bills these days.

I’m asking everyone to be a bit more sensitive and understanding to the struggles of out-of-work people like myself. If the shoe were on the other foot and you were out of work for a year or more, you would want people to be compassionate and understanding of your situation. Instead of attacking long-term unemployed people, how about throwing them some support.