Boy @ The Window Update

May 3, 2013

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Final Cover

Latest news: Boy @ The Window is now available in enhanced digital (i.e., video, pictures and links) mode, via Apple’s iBookstore (through iTunes). Yay me!!!

Also, I’ve dropped Smashwords.com as a third-party distributor. Unlike many authors, I understand html/css code, and I have time to review and fill out contracts. Plus, getting support from Smashwords was like pulling teeth out of an elephant’s mouth with a teaspoon.

You can purchase Boy @ The Window for $4.99 through this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/boy-the-window/id643768275?ls=1. And, it’s also available for the Kindle world on Amazon.com. Enjoy!

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Potential Boy @ The Window Book Covers

February 7, 2013

I know. It’s barely been a month since I declared that I will self-publish Boy @ The Window this year, through the most reputable self-publishing program I can find, of course (see my post “The New Gameplan for Boy @ The Window” from last month). But I had to start with something less substantial than finding old photos from the Hebrew-Israelite years of my now deceased idiot ex-stepfather and of my younger siblings, paying a copy editor to comb for grammatical errors or setting up a version of the manuscript for eBook format. So I’ve posted some book cover designs I’ve been working on these last couple of weeks. I like some, but I’m not wedded to any of these (and will likely revise in the next month or so, even without additional input).

So please take a look, tell me which potential book covers you like or hate, are boring or spark no particular feelings at all. Give me you feedback, good, bad, ugly or indifferent. I’m a big boy – I can take it!


The New Gameplan for Boy @ The Window

January 5, 2013

Siege of Burgos (Spain), 1813, by François Joseph Heim. Pic taken December 23, 2012. (1970gemini via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Siege of Burgos (Spain), 1813, by François Joseph Heim. Pic taken December 23, 2012. (1970gemini via Wikipedia). In public domain.

It’s a new year, and with the beginning of all years is a chance to execute new plans, or for most people, to make resolutions they often don’t keep. Such is the case for me regarding my coming-of-age memoir Boy @ The Window. Hopefully I’ll be in the first category of plans for my new year and not in the latter. After five years of beating my fists on the walls of literary agents, acquisition editors and commercial publishers, I have to do far more than hope.

And my fists have needed a few months to heal after the past few years. In all, I contacted somewhere around 140 agents, editors and publishers since the end of ’07 about Boy @ The Window. One in four asked to look at either the first few pages, the first couple of chapters or the entire manuscript. Only two of those agents agreed to represent the manuscript, and then, with major conditions. One went as far as to suggest that I only focus on my family life, as if my preteen and teenage years in Humanities had no impact on my development at all. The other thought I could sell Boy @ The Window better if I turned it into a work of commercial fiction.

I should’ve seen the writing on the proverbial commercial book industry wall long before today. Between the shifts in the commercial publishing marketplace since my experiences with Fear of a “Black” America between ’99 and ’04, the Great Recession’s impact on the industry since ’08, and the rise of the ebook in the past decade. All three pointed to one simple fact. If one wasn’t already a successful author prior to a decade ago, or famous, or with a significant connection to commercial publishing (e.g., a journalist, an editor, or even an editorial assistant), one would face a long, hard walk through the traditional route of publishing a book.

Boxer David Haye displays his bruised knuckles, January 12, 2011. (http://www.thesun.co.uk/)

Boxer David Haye displays his bruised knuckles (cropped), January 12, 2011. (http://www.thesun.co.uk/)

But I’d made up my mind the moment I began working on Boy @ The Window in earnest in the summer of ’06. I didn’t want to self-publish my second book, not after a year and four months of promoting Fear of a “Black” America. While on some level I successfully promoted my first book (I have receipts of my royalty checks to prove that), selling a thousand copies while spending $3,500 to do so for a semi-academic book on multiculturalism was nothing like I had envisioned the process back in ’99.

I persisted in the idea of traditional commercial publishing for the manuscript. I dutifully attended writers conferences, book fairs and other opportunities to meet other authors, potential agents and a few editors. I wrote and rewrote my query letter and proposal, with more revisions than I probably did on the Boy @ The Window manuscript itself. I sent out my letters, took phone calls when they came, reached out to folks for help. And all to end up concluding that I would be in need of dentures by the time a commercial publisher would lukewarmly pick up my manuscript for its list.

Now, even my harshest critics (myself included) consider Boy @ The Window a solid manuscript. So the issue has never really been the quality of the story or the writing. The issues come down to an industry in seismic flux and to me as a person. With my own career in transition and without the obvious examples of success (I’m not regularly booked for TV programs, I have yet to make my first $1 million), I can’t say that I’m in the public eye enough to sell 10,000 copies of my book per week for three weeks, and at least 5,000 a week for three months. That’s the industry threshold for groundbreaking nonfiction success these days.

So dreams of sugar plums or $100,000 advances aren’t exactly dancing in my head these days. But much has changed since I published Fear of a “Black” America in the past eight and a half years. For one, ebooks rule the book publishing marketplace, enabling any aspiring (if not talented) writer to self-publish or to publish independently. Add to this the mix social media, like my blog, Twitter, Facebook and other connections, and nontraditional publishing may well make as much sense as working with an agent.

Intermediate pass route game plan (with at least one running back as blocker), November 2011. (http://www.npengage.com).

Intermediate pass route game plan (with at least one running back as blocker), November 2011. (http://www.npengage.com).

This means much more work — and money — on my part, though. I’ll need to hire a copy editor, figure out artwork, finalize pictures, implement my proposed marketing strategy, plan a date for publishing to coincide with marketing, and so on. But I also realize that few commercial publishers do this work for authors anymore, anyway, as they’ve slashed their promotion and marketing budgets. The advantage, then, goes to people like me, with some means for publication and enthusiasm for my book.

I realized all of this at least two years ago. Apparently, so did my wife. When I finally decided to go this route for Boy @ The Window a few weeks ago, she said “I thought you should’ve done it two years ago, but you weren’t ready.” Meaning that I wasn’t ready to dismantle my siege guns and remove my land minds around the commercial publishing castle. Now that I have, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will publish Boy @ The Window this year, 2013, short of an apocalyptic event.


Promoting Fear of a “Black” America

February 4, 2012

Fear of a "Black" America front cover, July 2, 2004 (Donald Earl Collins).

It’s been seven years since my first radio interview and book signing for my first book, Fear of a “Black” America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience (2004). In all, I spent sixteen months actively promoting the book, through PR releases, contacts at universities and through my work at the Academy for Educational Development, and a huge volume of email exchanges and phone conversations. Between this nearly full-time work, my full-time job, and being a full-time parent and husband, I was exhausted by the end of ’05.

It’s unbelievably hard work to promote a book. Especially a self-published one. Not to mention, one that I’d proclaimed as an in-depth response to the conservative movement’s “Culture Wars” on all things “multicultural.” One that was a combination of personal vignettes with interviews and historical research to tell the story of African Americans and other groups of color coming to grips with their notions of multiculturalism in education and in their everyday lives. Granted, it was immediately available via Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble/B&N.com and the now out-of-business Borders.com. But if I’d done nothing, I would’ve sold maybe one hundred copies in ten years.

My work to promote Fear of a “Black” America began about a year and half before it hit virtual and actual shelves in September ’04. I created a website for the manuscript (http://www.fearofablackamerica.com) in February ’03,  learning HTML in detail in three weeks’ time. Within a year, the number of unique visitors to the fledgling site varied between 500 and 1,000 a month. After three years of coming close — but still failing — to publish Fear through traditional publishers like Beacon Press, Random House and Verso, I politely moved on from my agent and decided to self-publish.

A couple of months into the process, I hadn’t much success beyond a couple of professors using copies of Fear in their African American studies courses (a completely random occurrence — they were in different parts of the country). My friend Marc took it upon himself to have me meet him and a friend of his for a long talk about how to organize a marketing campaign for the book at the end of November ’04. While they were certainly well-meaning, their advice provided no real insight into the process other than what I already knew. I just needed to be persistent.

That persistence paid off in early February ’05. In a span of three days, I did an evening drive interview with Howard University Radio (WHUR-FM) and a book signing at Karibu Books. Both, at least, gave me some momentum beyond Black History Month, as I continued doing book signings in the DC area and through my job up in New York that spring.

My promotions reached their height in April ’05, when I did an hour-long interview with Pacifica Radio DC (WPFW-FM) about Fear. There, I realized how much more interested caller were in my personal background and how that shaped my views of multiculturalism. I also learned that some of the callers — whom I didn’t know — had actually read my book. It made all of the groundwork I’d done to get to this point worth the effort. By then, I’d cracked the top 100,000 in the Barnes & Noble list (84,000), or roughly ten to fifteen sales per week, and the top 200,000 (161,000) on Amazon.com (another 10-15 sales per week).

WPFW 90.9 Interview (Part 1), Fear of a “Black” America, April 25, 2005

WPFW 90.9 Interview (Part 2), Fear of a “Black” America, April 25, 2005

During that summer and fall, I continued to promote Fear, with another interview on Pacifica Radio DC in August, and a book signing at Howard University Bookstore in October ’05. But I was running on empty. As fast as email was, it didn’t have the immediacy of what we now call social media. And in ’05, Facebook was in its infancy, Twitter didn’t exist, and Blogger was a relative novelty. Even with a website that received 4,000 hits and over 1,200 visitors a month, I couldn’t generate the cascade effect that I could right now.

My final act of promotion for Fear of a “Black” America came in August ’06, though John Kelly’s Washington Post Metro Column, “Getting Work Done – On the Way to Work,”  in which I talked about editing my book on Metro Rail for two years. By then, I’d pivoted to work on Boy @ The Window, knee-deep in reopening memories that hadn’t been well-considered when I was a teenager.

Between September ’04 and December ’05, I promoted Fear of a “Black” America using $3,500 of my resources, and made over $1,000 on the book, selling about 600 copies in sixteen months. Overall, I’ve sold over a 1,000 copies between ’04 and ’08. Those numbers are on par with most works published in academia.

But I was hardly satisfied. I knew by ’09 that with a social media apparatus, I could’ve sold ten times as many books. I knew that my memoir manuscript deserved more than the fate of self-publishing, that I’d want to find a path to a traditional publisher. Still, despite my moments of despair, I believe that my persistence in finding an agent and a publisher is the right way to go. It’ll make it easier to work hard in promoting Boy @ The Window. In that case, I’ll be doing it in the virtual light of day.


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