My novel, Winter Light, successfully launched on Oct. 6, 2020! As part of my ongoing promotion, I recently I did a 10-min. interview (starting at minute 28:38) on Chat and Spin Radio, a nonprofit UK internet station with 750,000 international listeners.
Ron Clark has owned and operated the station based for the past seven years. He’s assisted by Ian Johnson, who’s the publicity and advertising manager.
Ian actively solicits guests, so your chance of arranging an interview is high.
We are looking for Book Authors, Writers, Artists, Illustrators and Charities to come on the Radio Station over the Phone or by Skype / Facebook FREE PUBLICITY PROMOTION to get out to our Listeners. The 10 Minute Live interview will be on our Evening & Late Show which is Broadcasted 7 nights a week.Please email IAN JOHNSON on email@example.com for more information.
Memoirs have changed so much since Mary Karr made history with the spectacular success of The Liars’ Club in 1995. Before then, memoir was a realm reserved for celebrities of one sort or another: political figures, movie stars, sports stars. In other words, people designated by their wealth, fame and broad influence as having lives interesting enough to deserve writing about.
But with Karr’s telling of her rough youth in East Texas, she broke open the genre so regular people like you and me can tell our stories. Over the last few decades, one memoir after another has been awarded the spotlight in which to show how so many seemingly ordinary lives are, in fact, extraordinary.
Joanne Nelson is one of those people. Over the years, she wrote essays about her youth that were published in a variety of journals. She collected them in a basket and put them forth as This is How We Leave, which will be published Aug. 11, 2020. I feel particularly fond of this book because I grew up in that same region, so her descriptions of neighborhoods and family angst feel spot on.
Here’s my review of her very deserving work:
Author and therapist Joanne Nelson proves through her tender new memoir, This is How We Leave, that writing is indeed the best therapy.
Through a series of essays, the author shows us her youth growing up in a dysfunctional blue-collar family in Milwaukee. Through detailed, sensory-packed prose, we see, listen and feel the violent slaps; the cursing and criticism; and the drunkenness. When the father abandons the family, the two teen sons go off to their lives, leaving Joanne with her alcoholic mother.
“In the working-class neighborhood the indoor swells of our parents’ dissatisfactions and angers were the most dangerous. The problems — broken appliances, disobedient children, and unexpected bills — often played out during supper with raised voices and smacks to the head.”
Such honesty, combined with the many insights the author imparts, are what make this memoir so touching. She’s neither bitter nor forgiving. Instead, she tells of her anger, despair, fear and disappointment. Ultimately, however, she comes to understand that her parents came from an uneducated background and lived during an era where no one was encouraged to share their feelings. Nor did they have the advantage of parenting classes or counseling. The result were people like her parents, who lived with inner demons from which they never escaped.
Most satisfying of all, Nelson shows that though she had a rough start in life — one made easier by her loving grandparents — she went to college, married and created a loving family. Through her training as a therapist and passion for writing, she processed the pain, and while unable to forget, she moved forward, to a place of acceptance and happiness.
By independent press, I’m talking about publishing houses that put out 2 – 15 books a year, are typically operating on a small budget, have a relatively small staff and operate as a traditional publisher. The last means these presses offer a clear and written contract that states they’ll publish your book within a certain time period and take a stated percentage of the profits. They DO NOT ask for money from authors.
If a publisher suggests you’ll have to pay fees up front, the company is most likely a vanity press that helps authors self-publish: for a fee, the company helps put the book together. The company may even help market the book for an extra cost.
Now for the 5 reasons why an independent press may be the road to your success:
The large conglomerate publishing houses like Random House and Hachette are literally closed to submissions by authors. To get your work considered by them, you need to get a literary agent who acts as a go-between.
Getting an agent can take a month or years and so adds to the publication process.
In contrast, authors can submit their work directly to small independent presses.
Here’s the process:
Find a small press that seems suitable for your work.
When you find a possible publisher, carefully peruse the company’s website. I read the “About” page that states the press’ mission, then go read through the company’s catalog of books to see how closely they resemble mine.
Follow Submission Guidelines
If I perceive a possible match, I follow the submission guidelines and send the requested information, typically a query letter that includes a bio, a synopsis and 1 – 3 sample chapters.
Almost all publishing companies take only digital submissions via email or Submittable or via another online submission management form.
Electronic submissions have greatly reduced the time necessary to collate a submission package, not to mention there’s no paper wasted nor money spent on postage.
Occasionally publishers will require a $10 – $25 reading fee, but that practice is, as yet, rare. If you don’t want to pay the fee, move on in your search. If you decide the charge is fair, given most small presses operate on a small budget, pay the fee.
When I first began submitting to literary agents in hopes of landing a contract with a large publisher, they would typically respond within a number of months. Nowadays agents get so many submissions, they stipulate in their submission guidelines that they won’t respond unless they’re interested in your work.
Since literary agents are the gateway to big publishers, you and your work can languish while waiting for a response. And what happens when you reach the end of agents who are suitable to query?
In comparison, I’ve found that small independent presses are reliably responsive. They’ll give you a yay or nay within the time period they specify on their websites. Most take simultaneous submissions, which means you can submit to them while also submitting elsewhere. If you get your manuscript accepted, the etiquette is to withdraw your book from the other publishers to which you’ve submitted so they won’t spend more time considering your work.
In the past, a publishing company would typically publish authors from the country where the company is based. Most of the books would be for audiences in that locale.
But times have changed and independent presses have been at the forefront of embracing what’s now commonly known: the reading public has gone global. People — like me! — love to read about other places by authors from those foreign locales.
The editor of Vine Leaves Press, for example, lives in Greece. The publishing director lives in Germany. The company is based in Melbourne, Australia, and the authors are from all around the world. I’ve had a marvelous time connecting with writers who live in other countries and who’ve had such different experiences!
Many independent publishers are nonprofit. Those that are for-profit are usually not in the business to make a lot of money. Instead, the presses are operated by people who love to read and want to produce books that further their particular vision that appeals to a specific group of readers.
Some companies are passionate about nature and publish works where nature is front and center. Others love mysteries set in the Wild West era. Others promote stories by traditionally marginalized people, whether due to sexual orientation, ethnic or racial heritage, or other reasons.
Because small presses are not looking for the next big blockbuster, they can be gutsy and take risks big publishers won’t touch for fear of not making enough money.
Connection to Audience
Because small publishers have equally small budgets, they require authors to play an active role in promoting their books.
This can include:
putting together a media kit with a press release, photos, Q&A questions
building and maintaining an audience via a dozen social media platforms
pursuing publicity opportunities, such as guest blogging gigs, interviews on podcasts or getting articles or other work published
creating extra content for their book, like the below playlist I made and circulated on social media and that reflects the tastes of Mary Donahue, the 15-year-old protagonist of Winter Light.
If you’re new to promotion, the above can be absolutely overwhelming.
But if you—
take one step at a time
pay for help that fits your promotional budget, whether purchasing Facebook ads, hiring a book consultant (as I did with Kate Tilton), or paying a pro to arrange a blog tour (as I did with Rachel’s Random Resources)
share ideas with other authors
all while describing the journey to your readers
—you’ll get to know those readers so well they’ll feel loved and willing to accompany you on your next book adventure.
A Last Note
Life is too short to spend it waiting, or worse, suffering from the repeated message your work isn’t suitable for a mass market.
Instead, consider looking for an independent press that seems like a good match to your book. If the editor extends a contract, and those at the helm respond to your questions in a timely, considerate way, consider going that route.
The best moment in my life was when I no longer sought the favor of agents and large publishers, but instead moved toward the independent presses — and their authors and readers ! — that enthusiastically embraced my work.
I had the most pleasant surprise this morning when I opened my email to find a copy of my upcoming novel’s book cover by Jessica Bell, publisher of Vine Leaves Press and a top-notch book designer, as well as author and singer/song-writer.
Now I have the task of building a Book Launch Team. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though I’ve had two previous books published, I’ve never done this particular task.
Free Book + Review = Happy Reader and Writer
A Book Launch Team consists of people who volunteer to read a free copy of your book ahead of the book’s publication and then help generate excitement by posting reviews and otherwise promoting the book on social media.
Send out the word via all of your social media avenues and your newsletter subscribers that you’re looking for people interested in reading a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC).
If you’re self-publishing, wait until you have the copyedited and formatted digital version. If you’re with a traditional publisher, talk to the staff about when the ARC will be created and disseminated.
Once you have the contact information for your volunteers, be sure to send them directions. Specifically:
Let them know the approximate date they’ll receive the ARC: Suggestions of when to distribute the copies range from from 2 – 6 weeks ahead of publication. I’ll send out copies as soon as the publisher makes them available, which will be at least 6 weeks in advance. That will give readers time to read the book and post a review on GoodReads, which can be done in advance of the pub date as soon as the cover and book information are loaded by the publisher.
When the correct ordering links are in place, ask your team members to pre-order the book, which stimulates future sales and a higher Amazon ranking. Since ARC readers are already getting a free copy, they may not feel incentivized to purchase the book. Consider suggesting they buy the book as a gift for a friend. Or let them know the Amazon Kindle prices are often so inexpensive as to be very inviting. I’ve purchased my fellow authors’ books for $2.99!
Suggest the review be 1 – 3 paragraphs: longer than a sentence and less than a treatise.
Provide a short, clear and detailed list of places to post the reviews (more on that below).
Give a few clear deadlines for placing the reviews.
Send them a personal thank you, and maybe a simple gift, in appreciation for their support. A truly personal touch would be to host a short Zoom meeting to thank everyone, or offer to talk with their book clubs if/when they read the book.
Some team members will request a print copy, at which point you’ll have to decide if you can accommodate them.
Where to Place Reviews
Be precise in telling your team members where you’d like them to post and the details, such as website URLs and instructions, about how to do so.
Make sure to put the most important venues at the top of the list. For example, I’m going to ask my team members to post on GoodReads, because that reaches a huge number of readers and the site allows people to post reviews well in advance of publication, typically as soon as the book cover and publishing information are uploaded (1-2 months before publication). Such an early review will encourage readers to click the to-read option that places the book on their “shelf” to buy and read once the story is published.
Be sure to tell your team members they need to have a GoodReads account. The process is simple, but be ready to help your team with the process.
The next place to post will be Amazon:
People can’t post unless they have an Amazon account AND they’ve spent at least $25 on Amazon in the last year. Sorry, but that’s the state of things! If people don’t want to open an account, provide them with other review options.
Let your member know they can’t post until the day of publication. The week before, send them a reminder of the pub date and ask them to have the review ready. Send another reminder on the pub date, because people are busy and will be likely to forget.
Warn your readers that when they post, the review won’t show up until 24-48 hours later. So don’t panic if you don’t see any reviews on the first day.
Once those main venues are covered, you can suggest a variety of other places team members can post if they have a little extra time. For example:
They can post a review on their blog.
They can send a simple message of “I loved this book!” on whatever social media platforms they use.
They can show a photo of themselves reading on their tablet.
They can suggest the book to their book clubs or others they know of.
At every step, make people feel they’re truly part of your team by reiterating their importance and your thanks. If you don’t know some of the readers, take the time to find out where they live and why they love to read. If they’re fellow writers, be willing to return the favor when their books are publications. We humans work together so much better when we feel connected!
Keep everyone updated about the next step and send friendly (non-pushy!) reminders about upcoming deadlines.
And if a member of your team doesn’t care for the book and asks to be excused from writing a review, that’s fair! If I don’t like a book, I don’t assume the book is bad, but instead that I’m not the right reader and that others may enjoy the story more. Besides, it’s better to have a team member withdraw than to have them write a bad or mediocre review.
Lastly, there will be people who, despite your best attempts, simply take the free copy without offering a review. That happens. At least more person in the world has read, and hopefully enjoyed, your story.
In terms of thanks, send one the day of publication. Afterward you can send a simple gift, such as a hand-made card, or even a gift card for coffee/tea.
Again, if you’re interested in being part of the Winter Light Book Launch Team, email me: email@example.com.
Do you recognize the now iconic lament of Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit:
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!”
Those words — and more importantly, that assertive attitude — form the basis for the motto I’m using to plan the virtual book launch for my next novel, Winter Light (Oct. 6, 2020, Vine Leaves Press):
“It’s my party and I’ll do what I want to!”
All too often it’s easy for writers to forego such a celebration, not only because we tend to be introverted, so being the focus of an online event seems both personally and technologically terrifying.
Therefore it’s necessary to remind ourselves why this party matters:
You’ve worked long and hard on your book! You deserve to celebrate along with all of the people — friends, family, fans — who’ve supported you along the way.
A virtual party that can reach friends and readers around the world is a great way to increase your initial sales, especially now that more publishers are marketing to a worldwide audience.
You can always add a physical book launch party if and when that makes sense.
Rather than pick an option based on what you feel pressured to do, ask what kind of event will suit your personality and that you’ll have fun carrying out. Nobody likes a stressed-out, no-fun party host!
Some of us authors are natural celebrities who feel comfortable in front of a camera and can address strangers as though they’re old friends. Some of us are quiet souls who’d simply like to do a reading and thank those who helped in some way toward the completion of the book.
My gig will be somewhere in between. While I have a lot of stage experience — musicals, choirs and dance recitals — I have no dreams of being a rock star and am only so technically savvy.
Pick a virtual venue where you’ll be comfortable
If the prospect of being on camera in front of people you don’t know is daunting, you can invite them to visit your Facebook author page during a certain time and date.
After typing a welcome to those who show up, you can answer questions through written dialogue. In turn, people can send you congratulations filled with emojis.
But typing exchanges takes awhile and starves your guests of what they really want, to see your happy face!
Many of these venues are free, while others may charge a monthly subscription fee. All are fairly easy to use. But a lot can go wrong if you don’t thoroughly check out the system. Specifically:
Will most of your guests have the software installed on their computers? If you send them a link to install the software, will they have the time or feel comfortable doing so?
Are you comfortable with the viewpoint? For example, on Facebook Live, you stare into the camera and see a view of yourself. Those who visit text their comments, which you read off of the screen and comment about. Do you like that setup, or would you rather be able to see and hear your guests, as you would on Zoom?
Check the audio well ahead of time. I was going to use Facebook Live, but when I used the platform for an event, the audio kept going in and out, a problem I couldn’t solve.
If you’re using a platform such as Zoom, check out all of the bells and whistles. Do you want to allow people to wait in the virtual room until you arrive? Do you want to mute your guests, or allow them to talk? What if people having trouble getting in? Do you have someone on hand to troubleshoot so you won’t be distracted?
Do you have the connectivity to support the venue? Nobody likes glitchy images!
If you want to explore other options, check out the 7 Free Living Streaming Sitesby Alexander Bychock on Restream. Keep in mind new technical options are coming online every year, so doing a search for the latest and greatest is always in order.
Party Details: When and How Long?
While words of wisdom abound on the internet regarding the perfect day, time and length for an online event, there is no such thing.
Like any celebration you host, think about what will work best for the people you most want to attend.
Day of Week
Remind yourself that this is an online event and therefore lacks the promise of physical fun tied to an in-person party. People won’t want to be on their computers on a weekend, which is typically reserved for family activities and errands. So consider choosing a weekday and preferably Tuesday through Thursday, since people tend to be overwhelmed on Mondays, and Fridays are considered part of the weekend.
Time of day
Dedicated as your followers are, they won’t be able to attend during work. So consider an evening time that spans a decent range of time zones.
I’m on the West Coast of the U.S. I want to be sure my relatives on the East Coast can come, despite the 3-hour time difference, so I’ll choose 5 p.m. my time. Friends in my area will most likely be able to get off of work a little early, or come to the event a little later, while 8 p.m. for my West Coast peeps won’t be too late.
Length of time
Make your party long enough so people can drop in when they can, but not so long you’re worried about how to fill the time. I’m aiming for an hour.
In between moments where you encourage people to purchase your book — be sure to let them know how — plan to entertain them, because what’s a party without activities? That and those actions keep you busy.
When choosing what to do, again consider what sounds fun and manageable for you and that will help you connect with readers and sell books.
When you invite people, don’t forget to tell them about what you’ve got planned.
Arrange a guaranteed fan club
You’ll of course invite those on your mailing list as well as all of your social media friends.
But you don’t want to worry about waiting online until someone shows up. So send a special invite to your close friends and family to ask who’s willing to arrive at the start of the party to get the ball rolling.
If they volunteer, take care of them:
If they’re not used to attending online events, or find technology daunting, give them easy instructions for how to reach the event and participate. If they sound unsure, arrange a dress rehearsal.
Ask them to bring 5 questions or comments to get the dialogue started.
I wanted to try a Facebook Live event, so I arranged a 40-min. Q&A for my first novel, The Wind Thief.
I practiced the night before by setting my phone to Facebook Live, but I didn’t hit start. That allowed me to see myself on camera. Then I rehearsed everything about the event, which showed what I needed to consider:
Location: I chose to broadcast from my writing desk in my office. I had to move a variety of things behind me — a hula hoop and a pair of skis — so people wouldn’t be distracted. I also had to close the window to block lawnmower and other outside sounds.
Camera angle: I chose a camera position where I wouldn’t be looking down on people, nor would they be able to see up my nose. Then I needed a prop that could reliably hold my phone in the right position without falling.
Appearance: While I love the natural light by a window, I looked washed out and so decided to wear makeup, which I rarely do. And while I love my favorite hoodie, it made me look like a bum, so I tried on a variety of things until I found what looked good on camera. Then I did the same for my hair.
Actions: I practiced addressing people while looking at my gestures and listening to my tone.
Facebook Live, and most likely other livestream choices, allow you to choose an “only me” privacy setting where you can record the practice session and play it back without anyone seeing.
Unless you’re an experienced broadcaster, your first video will be alarming. That’s the reason to practice! You’ll gradually become more comfortable and see what works. The end goal is to look and sound like yourself and be sincere when you talk to people.
The last step is to decorate! Find out how to include graphics that state the name of the event, welcome people and feature your book. Facebook, for example, offers an Online Facebook Banner Maker you can affix to the top of your page.
Too often hosts spend so much time planning and carrying out their parties that they forget to have fun. So relax and remind yourself that you invested so much effort in this book, you deserve to celebrate with those who’ve supported you thus far.
I want to give a shout-out to my friend and fellow writer, Martha Alderson, who today releases her new workbook designed to help all of us creatives learn ways to deal with those significant humps that accompany every project.
As Martha writes on her website:
Boundless Creativity is a transformational guide that incorporates a powerful technique called “The Universal Story”. The Universal Story is a four-phase program with easy-to-follow steps and exercises. Using the Universal Story, you learn to identify and dissolve the emotional and energetic blocks that create self-doubt and get in the way of your creativity.
These tips and tools give you the keys to unlock creative imagination, inspiration and intuition. As a result, you’ll see yourself and the world in new ways —with acceptance, emotional balance, and a tolerance of imperfection.
I haven’t completed a creative project yet that hasn’t had at least a few hair-raising, doubt-laden, wish-I-could-give-up moments. Martha’s book is written by a creative for creatives to help us discern what’s important and what’s not.
Because the long and short of it is, we need more art in this currently bad-news world! Art enlightens and elevates us all. So if you’ve got a story, but are having trouble telling it, consider purchasing Martha’s book. And check out her inclusion in a recent Forbes magazine article, How to Lift Your Mood in Troubling Times.
I’ve always thought that as a writer, my first duty is to be curious about people. Not a little curious, but doggedly quizzical until I get as close as possible to understanding how people think and why they act as they do, including myself. But the observation and research skills I’ve built over the years are nothing compared to those of Viktor E. Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning.
Even 23 years after his death, through his work, the Holocaust survivor continues to be one of the best examples of a human wholly devoted to studying the inner workings of humankind. Not because he wanted to write a bestseller, but instead because he believed helping people find their meaning in life allowed them to find happiness, which in turn leads to a better world.
This book is fantastic — and still relevant — on so many levels, determining which to list first is a challenge. And while the book could be simply described as a man telling how he survived three years in not one, but four WW II Nazi Germany concentration camps, including Auschwitz, that would be to excise the many surprising twists and turns.
The first is that Frankl was liberated in 1945 when the war ended. After several months spent recuperating, he sat down and wrote the book in nine day in his native German. The English translation of the title was From Death-Camp to Existentialism. New editions, along with the revised title, came out in 1959, 1962, 1984, 1992, and 2006. I read the last version, which was published nine years after Frankl died in Vienna.
Frankl didn’t leave Germany as so many Holocaust survivors did. Instead, he resettled in his hometown of Vienna where he spent the rest of his life until his death in 1997, by which time his book had sold 10 million copies and been translated into 24 languages.
Consider reading the 2006 edition, which contains extra material, and in particular, these three key sections: Frankl’s preface to the 1992 edition, Experiences in a Concentration Camp, and Logotherapy in a Nutshell.
When Frankl was arrested, he was already a doctor of medicine who’d chosen to specialize in psychiatry and was working on his doctorate in philosophy. The first day he entered a concentration camp, he did so with a fully-researched academic paper in his pocket.
Though immediately stripped of the document, along with every piece of clothing, he found scraps of paper on which to jot notes and so set about rewriting the paper in his head. The credited the task with giving him a sense of purpose so deep as to give him the strength to endure his hardship.
He even determined to build on his paper by including his observations of camp life. The result is that even as he gives very intimate details of his first-hand experience, he also includes a distant, clinical viewpoint, a combination that proves riveting.
“When one examines the vast amount of material which has been amassed as the result of many prisoners’ observations and experiences, three phases of the inmate’s mental reactions to camp life become apparent: the period following his admission; the period when he is well entrenched in camp routine; and the period following his release and liberation.”
As a writer, I appreciated his unsentimental observations of prisoners who fell into two groups: those who found a meaning that helped them survive, and those who lacked meaning and perished.
Again as a writer, I found myself making parallels to creating characters, whether fictional or not. Specifically, it’s a writer’s job to find a meaning worthy enough to propel a character forward with enough strength to surmount one obstacle after another.
I had assumed Frankl’s account of his time in the camp would be the main takeaway. When I began the section Logotherapy in a Nutshell, I did so half-heartedly. In dry, clinical writing, Frankl explains the following is an attempt to answer readers’ questions about logotherapy, a technique that helps people find their meaning in life.
Within two pages I found myself highlighting section after section as either aligning with what I’ve discovered in life, or providing new insights I’d never made before.
Again reading through the dual prism of a human being and a writer, I’ve gleaned ideas for being a better person and a better writer:
What a person finds meaningful in life can change over time according to her/his circumstances.
The struggles people endure should not be a source of embarrassment, but instead a badge of courage and source of pride at persevering even in dire circumstances.
It’s during those rugged periods that people are afforded the opportunity to realize their potential by making a conscious decision about how to act. Will they be terrible to others, or helpful and kind?
Lastly, the goal in life should not be to attain notoriety through awards, but instead, those are simply the outcome of passionately pursuing what one feels is important.
I’ll be chewing on his lessons of positivity and purposeful living for a long time to come. If you read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Author Brian David Floyd recently decided everyone everywhere needed inexpensive distraction during this time of shelter-in-place. So he organized a Fun Reads for April! book promotion that offers readers 29 — 29! — books for free download, including mine (The Wind Thief), from April 7 – May 1.
Brian easily accomplished the task through BookFunnel. The online company offers a variety of services depending on the plan an author buys, the least expensive costing $20.
Even at that level, BookFunnel offers authors what they most need, an easy way to upload a digital copy of their books — and have it sent where it needs to go — for promotional purposes. Those include book giveaways or providing advanced reader copies (ARCs) to people who’ve agreed to read and review your book before it’s published. Authors can even send two hours of an audio reading of their books to subscribers.
BookFunnel also allows authors to create, or participate in, group promotions like the one Brian organized. I opened an account at BookFunnel last week. When I saw the listing for Brian’s promotion, I thought, why not?
When I saw the response he got from other authors, along with the beautiful display of book covers, I finally understood the power of teaming up with other authors.
BookFunnel and BookSweeps, a company that organizes book promotions and collects email addresses for authors’ subscriber lists, make it easy to meet authors who write books similar to yours. Not only is it fun to reach out to those authors and find out who and where they are, but you can work together to provide your readers with a much more expansive list of book suggestions.
By being generous in promoting fellow writers’ books, your readers will come to see you as one of them, a reader who loves great writing. And as a member of the tribe, they will appreciate you even more!
I was happy to receive an advance copy of this book. I was even happier to truly appreciate the author’s restraint when it comes to telling vs. showing.
I’m not a fan of books that explicitly tell me everything, which implies I’m too stupid to figure things out for myself. Carolyn R. Russell, on the other hand, doesn’t make that mistake in this new YA dystopian thriller, In the Fullness of Time. Instead, she has confidence in the intelligence of her young readers and drops them into the States — a filthy, overpopulated urban environment — right behind the story’s teen protagonist, 17-year-old Somerset, where they have to fend for themselves just as she does.
The slang and terms used immediately create a sense of claustrophobia, both physically and emotionally. In this world, only the children of the elite go to school, where they’re fed propaganda. Somerset is one of the few who reads the “old-timey flatbooks” from the Lost Ages to learn how the world could have changed so drastically. She’s also one of the few who has access to Hydracomputers. She’s afforded such privilege because she’s one of the privileged, a status she despises.
The only hope of getting fresh air in this chokingly-controlled society is for Somerset to follow the trail of mysteries that begins on the first page when she snatches up a little girl who falls amongst the street masses and is almost trampled. By showing such compassion for innocence, and such intolerance for the few privileged at the top, Somerset reveals the bravery and independent spirit of a true hero.
Wearing her clerical robes, Somerset clandestinely performs acts of rebellion with her antiauthoritarian friends. With every action she takes and every questions she asks, she forges ahead to expose the government’s criminal acts, both in relation to the masses’ cheap food source, ‘Brix, and the mysterious means of Revving, an act the government bills as a spiritual transformation and that Somerset suspects leads to a much darker outcome.
At some point I plan to write a book about showing vs. telling, probably the trickiest aspect of writing anything. When I do, I’ll call upon such examples of how to respect readers’ intelligence.
I grew up in Chicago and about once every winter would wake up to a mountain of snow outside my window and more falling by the minute. At that moment, utter delight would shoot through me, because I knew this would be deemed a snow day and school would be canceled. That’s the same transformation — from this-will-be-good-for-me to fantastic! — that occurred upon reading the first page of this book.
I assumed by the title I’d be learning how to use photography to better market my next novel via social media. What an utterly fantastic thing to learn that the goal of the book is not to make us writers work, but instead invite us to play! That by messing around with photography, we can explore and improve our writing tenfold.
What a powerful concept!
We creatives tend to think we’re creative in one area or another. We’re writers, but not painters, or vice versa. Whereas this book espouses that people who create do so across their lives, so using one medium of creativity to fuel another makes perfect sense.
Rather than think of ourselves as just writers, we should consider broadening our self-image to think of ourselves as photographers, too. I have no idea why that didn’t occur to me before! I love photography, yet would never have considered submitting a photograph for publication, until now.
The chapters are flash-fiction-brief in the best way possible. Melanie uses a single, often humorous, anecdote from her personal or professional life as an all-around creative to illustrate one main concept, then ends with a writing and photography prompt. Such brevity encourages thought about basic, yet potent, concepts. For example, don’t worry about equipment. Use whatever camera you’ve got. And rather than worry about composition, take photos that snag your interest, then go back to look at why the image called out to you.
While I read the book once chronologically, I plan to use it as a long-term resource I can dip into regularly to flush my work with new creativity, almost like visiting a spa for writers!