Monday, 1 December 2014
“If there’s a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet then you must write it.” Toni Morrison
The fantasy of being a 'discovered' writer by one of the mega publishing houses was long over. But it took a while to get over the seductive dream. I knew about self-publishing well over 10 years ago but thought it second rate – there was a stigma of self-published authors being considered “lepers of the literary world” as one article I read expressed. The desire to be “discovered” or “accepted” was simple – validation. To have your authorship validated by 'the professionals' meant everything. There is something cringingly narcissistic about having to shout to the world that you are “good” – that you can write. Also, the shouting suggests arrogance and discredits validation since it’s self-articulated. So I wallowed for years in the misery of failure and feeling unworthy.
I entered short stories and poems to competitions, submitted them to magazines, sent my first novella to publishers but there were always good reasons why they were politely turned down. Sometimes no reasons just no reply! I based my submissions on what I read in the various publications and dared imagine I was good enough. When the competition lists came out declaring the winners and their entries I told myself something unfair had taken place. My heart continued to wallow. I had the feeling that my writing didn’t 'fit' anywhere. I began to believe it was me, I wasn’t good after all.
Many of the self-published books I had previously seen looked terrible. I had a feeling mine would look the same. So I shunned the idea. Let me back up a bit. When I say “some of them looked terrible” I mean that their covers were hurriedly and poorly designed; either by the author or a 'friend.' Editing was atrocious, probably because the author did it themselves or got someone who wasn’t so committed or fully up to the task. The selected fonts sometimes seemed difficult to read – as though unnecessary flamboyance was behind the choice to use a weird looking one over a legible or traditionally used one.
How could I overcome my book falling into these traps?
Having now self-published two books, I can see how easily it is to fall comfortably into all those traps. Financial limitation is one of the reasons for this. For example, I couldn’t afford professional editors (I don’t count because it’s my work!) There are a number of editing and formatting errors in the text that despite several times editing and giving to trusted people to look at remain. I console myself by remembering that I have read several books by brilliant authors and well-known publishers with editing issues in them. We are human; the process is a human one – errors are inevitable and sometimes unavoidable. These are my first books, I will get better and I will one day have the financial means to get them properly edited and so on.
Lack of creativity and zealousness also accounts for some of the obvious self-published look. In our eagerness to see the final 'product' we can take unnecessary short cuts. When we decide on a cover image (we being the author) are we overlooking the fact that we are not the best person to make that decision – is there anyone in our sphere of influence we can call on to get honest views about the cover. The Awakening and other Poems has a flowery image – of me romantically inhaling the fragrance of pink frangipani. I decided to use this image because I liked it! It was taken on a trip to Barbados last year and I was happy that day and felt free. In my haste to get the poems published I chose this image and paid someone to design its cover. David Morrison, from Publish Nation wasn’t charging too much and would do the work quicker than friends or family I knew who were more than capable of doing same, if not better. But the waiting and expecting would drive me crazy! David came back with all the pink hazey bits which ordinarily I find ultra-cheesy. When I showed it to a few people you could see they were flinching from the luminous reflection of the image. After a while I decided I didn’t mind the design – the poems are supposed to show potential creative writing students that I have a publication to my name – therefore the aim was to fulfil a marketing gap. I needed to honestly ask myself if the cover was doing just that. I think it is but await time and analytics to tell!
That leads me to point out that a self-published author naturally finds themselves having to think like a publisher. The role of the publisher is to sell the author’s books – it’s a business, the book has to be marketable, because it’s a product that has to represent what consumers are looking for. When I spoke with the printers, they always referred to my book (Elijah, the novel) as a product. They liked the colours used for the cover and said this made for a good product. It might be difficult to think of the work in this clinical way, the arduous effort of creativity brought down to such technical terminology but there really is no choice. A book is an item produced for consumption. You read it’s back cover blurb, decide you like it, a decision based also on the appeal of the cover design, you place it into your shopping basket, virtual or real and purchase – as much as you would a good body lotion or cologne.
Trying to format the books was no joke!Creatspace will take you through this, but this joyful news came too late for our first run. But after a while I had to stop believing there was a secret conspiracy by big publishers to retain all the knowledge of this intricate procedure for themselves. I thought that publishers had all the keys to this magnificent world and somehow locked the lepers out! Truth is I really had to get a better angle on Word for Windows; get my head round Section Breaks and so on – my head is still not round these! I don’t have Mac or Adobe, which can offer some formatting and designing advantages so I made do with my blessed laptop, which has served me well. I enlisted Ateinda when I felt defeated and time was running out to help me understand what I was doing wrong. We spent ages one weekend, trying to insert/delete pages and numbers so that others would fall on the right side and therefore avoid the curse of leprosy.
Verso, Recto, ISBNS and Barcodes – getting to know what’s what.
I knew the page but had no idea it was called 'verso' and that its opposite was 'recto.' When the first proof of the poems came with the ISBN and Copyright information on the wrong side, the lesson was clear. Printers will print whatever you give them; they won’t always tell you that your formatting is busted. You have to know where things should go. If you want them to format anything, consider this is an extra service they’ll charge you for. Every step of the way Google was my virtual guide. Put your request in and amazingly, you’ll get the answer. Guidance also came in the form of some lessons on YouTube. I enhanced a particular wisdom during the process - the value of gratitude to the universe when synchronicity occurs. I thanked all those people who take time to post helpful tips for just about every conceivable problem. So the most basic user or experienced can learn something, add to their skills and begin to appreciate the worthiness of the journey.
I used to be curious about ISBNs – what secret vault were these kept in? It took ages to purchase a batch – somehow finding the £135 to do so seemed impossible. I didn’t realise that some printers will do this for you, so you don’t have to be anxious about getting your own. I didn’t want the printers to have ownership of the work by providing the ISBN. That’s the deal with some of them; it’s their way to market themselves. Since I wanted Way Wive Wordz to be the publisher of the books, I had to purchase our own set from Nielsens. And barcodes – I learnt that these too aren’t a protected prize of the big publishers/outlets. I was slowly being handed some of those keys – in truth they’d been jingling above my head all my life. I didn’t hear the gentle jingles and didn’t see the light reflecting from them because I didn’t allow my senses to be rightfully exposed. That’s the consequence of wallowing.
“Divine Order” - the right printer at the right time
Initially I wanted to publish the novel with Lulu but realised that their sizes for novels were not what I wanted. I had given the manuscript to Publish Nation to organise this, then had to pull the plug last minute and find another printer with only weeks left to the launch. After finding a printer from a quick internet search – these wonderfully friendly sounding blokes at CPI - we realised the formatting was all over the place – some are still not resolved but we decided to go for it because we’d reached that point of near break and the launch was imminent. All that pressure now seems last century but at the time I wondered if I should give back the keys. I didn’t because that would be foolishness – and because I trusted that we had found in CPI the right printers – they were just great. I began to appreciate the “back end” of the publishing process.
Top 5 motivators
1) Self-belief – pursuing creative potential
At some point in the journey I discovered Derek Murphy of Creativindie and thanked the Orisha someone like him is out there, respecting and urging creatives to be their best and earn what they deserve. I subscribed to his blog and rarely do I confess to being a 'fan' of anything or anyone but something about Derek (perhaps it’s his seeming integrity and definite generosity) spoke to me at the time I most needed it. If you go on his website, this is his tag: “lessons in publishing, art and design, selling stuff and building a prosperous creative empire.” YES! That is exactly what I needed/need. This reaching voice or mind was somehow well mapped with my ideas for Way Wive Wordz. When I received his Newsletters I thanked him for the vibrations of his words. I literally sent him reply emails! He probably believes I’m a stalker now, but I don’t mind. The discovery empowered me to more confidently own the idea I had about being a “spiritual creative” and believe much more in myself.
2) The Artist’s Way – taking some steps back to move forward
Before discovering Creativindie, about a year ago my cousin introduced me to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I did the remote/book course and absolutely loved it! I realised that I’d been hiding, preventing myself from going for it, because somewhere inside me lurked the gremlins of failure, fear and an art teacher’s mantra that told me when I was about 15 that I wasn’t good enough. Not only the art teacher – but the industry professionals, the competition judges, the magazine editors who didn’t select my work – they all confirmed this teacher’s judgement. The Artist’s Way helped me seek out and destroy “the enemy within” and the “crazymakers” (those people – haters of a sort – who negatively impact your life by making you jump/skip/bounce to their tunes instead of harnessing your own). The course also taught me to identify the “ally within,” to appreciate those lessons in Truth and “affirmations” my mum had long been drilling in me. I realised that two of my “allies” were English literature teachers. Mrs Lewellyn, from my High School was a Miss Marple-like robust woman who seemed to like me. Her English class was the only one I took seriously and during which I relished putting my hands up attempting to spell everything. She believed in me in a way she didn’t have to voice. And Patricia Murray, my supervisor at London Met who taught interesting modules on Caribbean literature (or other literatures in English), one on magical realism and Postcolonial studies. I respected her a lot. She encouraged and supported, her flexibility meant I could do some of the things my way. I consider her a mentor still. She believed I could write, and because I knew she was good at what she did, I trusted that and it kept me going those silent and sometimes lonely months leading up to publishing.
3) Bogle L’Ouverture, legacies and reaching for the baton
The decision to self-publish came as a consequence of recognising that I really had no excuse. If Jessica and Eric Huntley, Margaret Busby, John Le Rose (and Sarah White, through New Beacon) among others could publish at a time when Africans weren’t expected to participate in this industry, what’s my excuse now? They faced extreme obstacles (not least lack of financial resources) and persevered because there was an urgency and need to produce works for Black people particularly in the UK that would strengthen their cultural identity, promote self-awareness, self-determination and express their aspirations. No one else was interested in raising the consciousness and producing culturally rich “products” for the consumption of African people in this country. I could feel myself believing I could do it. When Jessica Huntley passed away last year the compulsion grew – her spirit remained throughout the entire process; rising me from sleep early mornings encouraging me to push through, ask questions, be fearless and forward thinking. When Maya Angelou passed away earlier this year this compulsion took on fierce wings. I knew that if I didn’t take up the baton I’d have to live with that sinking feeling of having missed an opportunity to win the race. There are two poems in the Awakening, ‘Don’t tell me no goodbye’ and ‘More Markable Things’ respectively dedicated to Jessica Huntley and Maya Angelou whom I consider “spiritual anchors” of productivity and creativity now residing in the ancestral realm.
4) The Honest Guys and the Power of Meditation
It’s not easy to shut everything out and get into the 'self' that needs to be productive. I had to do something drastic – forget the ad hoc self-centering. Do it properly. I continued to engage with the ‘outside world’ as needs must – but kept it minimal. I wanted to meditate much more, and be better at it. I didn’t have funds or much time to go to the many meditation classes, yoga retreats and so on I wanted to. I came across the Honest Guys on YouTube – they have these little uplifters I became a addicted to! Each morning, and at night I played something that set me up for the day or quietened me down at night. This gave me clarity. A cluttered mind impacts the spirit and is a blight to creativity and productivity. The Honest Guys’ “morning uplift” gave me the motivation to “dream big” and believe “I mattered.” One of their meditations reacquainted me with “Shelly” the neglected child, I neglected! I revisited who she was – her sensitivities, and serious, unsmiling, face. I looked in her staring eyes and realised that they were engaging uniquely with the world. I reflected on the innocent, free spirited dreams she must have had before getting all grown – and forgetting. I began to greet her each morning.
"Shelly" and Michelle Yaa Asantewa - connecting
5) Rewards reward rewards – the enterprise of positive thinking
I made effective use of the clarity I received from meditation. I made necessary decisions, began to cut back on stupidness – time wasting and wasters. I stopped taking myself for granted! I let go of everything physical and spiritual that I felt impeded me in this life and past (plural). I accepted myself – all the dimensions and aspects. I forgave myself. All the foolishness, indecisions and failures to launch. I recognised that I didn’t crave fame; but considered that fortune could have a positive impact and that it meant more than ‘physical material substance’ as was the case with King Solomon’s request for wisdom. I stopped thinking negatively and feeling limited. I developed a mantra of my own – to “dream big and ask.” I observed that if I found something and was grateful for it – and heartfully thanked the universe – there was a high chance I’d find something else to be thankful for. This attitude was expansive. It is not possible to dip into the ocean and consume all its water. In everything I began to see unlimited possibility, and know that I deserved some of the water for I was prepared to go to the depths and arise to heights. If this meant venturing in my own boat in the exciting world of self-publishing I would band my belly and boldly embrace the waves.
Taking the stage – the spirited vibes at the launch
Jan Parnell, Director of post 16 and Progression at Phoenix High School once inspired me by asking if I’d had any of my work published. About a year later that’s exactly what I was doing for myself and feeling proud to do so. It’s the right time because the self-publishing taint has pretty much gone. Self-published authors are not “lepers “and have never been. There are services and programmes readily available to help us become better at the task of creating marketable 'products' and own our creativity. However, we have to accept that the quality of writing still has to “measure up” so we have to set our own high standards, generate excellent content. Some of us will hit the right buttons and make millions from this growth industry. Many of us will at least be grateful that we tried. Still some will eventually master the craft of marketing and distribution that will really be the test of our successes or failures.
A 6th form centre was exactly the place to hold the launch. Some wonderful students at the aptly named “Phoenix” School volunteered to help on the night. Hosted by Rahima Begum, the Executive Head Teacher Ambassador and member of the Youth Parliament, the event was predominantly led by young people. We had a stunning line up of performers. The occasion was opened with drumming by Siayome Karuma accompanied by flautist Keith Waite and pouring of libation by Priestess Osunyemi. The libation honoured ancestors as well as those young people who’d lost their lives through violence. We dedicated the event to James Andrew Godfrey Smartt (Jags) who was killed in Streatham Ice-rink by another youth in 2007. The day of the launch, 20th November, he would have been celebrating his 24th birthday.
There was an impressive turn out despite the tart weather and behind-gods back location of the school. Among the mix of adults and youth, were three special octagenarians – Lucille Davis, my mum, Eric Huntley and James Barnor. Natalie David’s soothing rendition of “At last” warmed us up and marked the flavour of achievements. Danny Thompson raised the tempo still with his powerful piece – ‘Understand Young Man’ urging African youths to ‘recognise’ the folly of postcode wars and the way the ‘system’ benefitted from their lack of self-awareness. The crowd swayed and were clearly charmed by the wonderfully talented J-Unity, a “young unique duo” who appeared last year on Britain’s got talent. They sang two tracks from their forthcoming EP – both big tunes to watch out for when it lands.
I was impressed by the two young ladies, Leonna Grant and Amira Ibrahim who read poems from the collection. As for the three young men, Guled Mohamed, Mohyahdin Shiddo and Ahaziah Jackson-Denis who volunteered to read/act out the dialogue from a scene in Elijah, they were brilliant. I dreamt of this and simply asked the question, the reality measured up beautifully.
As I read a last selected passage from Elijah I held back tears because I felt sad about what was happening to him in that ‘scene.’ He had been arrested and was being mechanically turned over by a system and society that had no regard for the circumstances of his life, let alone his rehabilitation. On reflection the sadness also has something to do with me having to let him and it (the novel) go. It’s exposure. This reminds me of a time I heard Toni Morrison reading. A friend asked if we could take a picture of her – “as long as it doesn’t flash” she said. “It won’t” my friend lied. The camera flashed, Toni frowned. It’s not always possible to get a good picture without using the flash. If one wants to take the stage they must be prepared for the exposure and all the discomfort this comes with.
Hail to the future - I fearlessly go forth to meet my good
I want to keep hold of my balance, continue developing the craft of writing, getting better at it. And now with the publishing angle, doing this to a level I can be proud of. For now I must accept all the congratulations because with the excellent support of guides in both physical and spiritual realms I achieved a triple launch. I developed the Way Wive Wordz website - do take a browse - (all self-published authors are encouraged to have an “author website” and there are no shortages of people who will develop these for you, if you have the funds to pay them; pay them you must because they will deserve every penny if they do it to your satisfaction; and of course the two publications which are first of many, if the Orisha and ancestors continue to bless me. The prettiest pink flowers gifted to me, the sumptuous refreshments collectively provided, the energy of the guests, the warmth of the Phoenix flame, the queues to purchase the books, the quill pen I used to sign them all made me happy to take the stage and be glad to do it my way and finally sigh!
CREATIVE WRITING COURSE STARTS JANUARY 31st 2015 (CHECK DETAILS HERE)