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  1. Every book is different, but I thought it might be helpful to you, my fellow writers and independent publishers, to come on this journey with me. I feel as if I am perpetually falling behind schedule in doing what’s needed to get The Culinary Art Portfolio of Josephine E. Jones into the hands of readers who will be uplifted by it. THE BOOK Since here at aalbc.com you have been surrounded by advertisements, a description, and a review about the book, I won’t take too much time talking about it. But here is a summary in one place. The Culinary Art Portfolio of Josephine E. Jones– where art and food intersect. Neither a cookbook nor a how-to-book , the book is a portfolio, with ready-to-frame prints, of the culinary art created by Josephine E. Jones with photography by the late John Turner. Opposite each photograph is text, which includes the ingredients, the process used, and a story about my mother’s culinary art. My illustrator, Natalie Marino, gets the credit for suggesting that the photographic pages be perforated, so they could be framed. The text pages on the left hand side remain even after the photos on the right hand side have been removed. This results in periodic blank pages, but they are there by design. THE PROMOTION SCHEDULE First, I researched the promotion schedule by reviewing archived articles from ibpa independent, the Independent Book Publishers Association magazine that comes as part of membership, researching online, and reviewing the IBPA webinars I took that covered the subject. I usually attend them in person so I can ask questions, but all webinars are recorded. IBPA offers monthly hour-long webinars for $19 each if ordered singly and 50% off if ordered annually. I order annually. There were 9 month, 6 month, and 3 month deadlines. CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS--HA Nine months in advance, I researched and wrote to two well-known people in the subject area of the book. I already had two friends lined up to write the other two endorsements. One was a culinary historian and the other was a professional cook whose radio cooking show-- with the original host--our son and I had listened to for years. In fact, it was our son who had first recommended the program to me when he was in grade school. I genuinely enjoyed reading the culinary historian’s books. And I had a fine time listening to the show with the new-to-me host of my favorite cooking show, as well as researching the host online. Neither person responded to my painstakingly-written concise emails. This highly-touted practice is a waste of time. Writers should stop doing this unless they know someone who knows someone who knows someone. My guess is that in a traditional publishing situation, the agent or editor has a contact who is a friend of the well-known person. That well-known person then writes the endorsement as a favor to the friend of the agent or editor, not because s/he knows the unknown writer. I don’t blame the well-known person. S/he is inundated with requests from people s/he does not know asking for endorsements. However, when I wrote the late Maya Angelou years ago for an endorsement for a novel I was writing, I did receive a response. Her assistant sent me a note politely declining, explaining that Ms. Angelou had too much to do. The tone of the note sounded regretful, not haughty. Now it is true, a few years before, I had bumped into the late Maya Angelou in Charleston, S.C. when she was somewhat lost, a situation which accidentally graced me with her presence. But I doubt if she remembered me. I just think she was more considerate than most people. NETGALLEY REVIEW PROGRAM Moving on to the six month deadline. I still needed two more endorsements, but now it was time to consider an IBPA review program I knew nothing about. I researched NetGalley. The program allows you to send your digital galleys to be reviewed by librarians, reviewers, and book buyers. With the IBPA discount, I paid $400 for six months on the site. Since my book has three main potential audiences: food lovers, art lovers, and black history lovers, I listed the book in those three categories. IBPA administers it, so you need to email them if you need anything changed or to request reports, but they are quite efficient. No more than a day or two elapsed between a request and completion. The monthly reports give details about the reviewers: emails and affiliations. Early on--with information from these reports--I contacted two reviewers who had given the book highly positive reviews. I asked them for permission to use review excerpts on the Praise page. They both agreed. I now had my two missing endorsements. I didn’t need any quotes on the back cover, because I was using a photo on the back. Altogether I received 23 reviews, most of them favorable. Several of the reviewers had their own websites or were also sending the reviews to Good Reads. One reviewer even showcased the cover and her review on her cooking blog. The last time I checked, last night, there were 11 reviews on Good Reads. I still have lots of work to do with these reviews now that the program has ended. Sending the reviews to libraries and potential readers will get the word out. Lessons learned: I should have scheduled NetGalley for three months before the book’s original publication date–May 20– and three months after. I scheduled for December 2 to June 2. AALBC.COM PROMOTION Just by accident, I stumbled onto the Books Coming Out Soon section. I was delighted to find out that it was free. As soon as I had a cover image, I sent it along with my codes that give the data about the book and a description. Here at aalbc.com, I made a better decision about scheduling. I scheduled the ads from May through July. Troy advised me to move the requested date for the book review a little later to give the reviewer time to read the book and write the review. It worked out just right. The aalbc.com review link will go to my email list with a request for friends and family to send it to people they think would be interested. IBPA MEDIA KIT PROGRAM I started the three month deadline a little late. In February, I signed up for the Media Kit Program, which is a digital press kit. It includes a cover photo, a description, the story behind the book, an author bio, and an author photo. Once I completed the kit, my materials were sent out in March. I used this program for my first book, An Extraordinary Life: Josephine E. Jones. As a result of that Media Kit mailing, I was interviewed for the online edition of Black Enterprise, which led to an interview with a journalist writing a book about Black women in corporate America. That journalist recommended me for a discussion on the NPR affiliate in Boston. The magazine interview , the journalist’s book interview, and the radio segment all resulted in book sales. In the Media Kit Program, you can choose which categories of online newspapers, blogs, and online magazines to send the kit. My choices: Women, African American, Art, and Food. I received 10 review requests. So far, I have had one interview for an Art blog, which will be posted soon. BOOK LAUNCH - SPRINGFIELD PUBLIC LIBRARY ONLINE - MAY 20 - 7:30 - 8:40 I had a fine book launch with wonderful sister and brotherfriends from several decades of my life, as well as a couple of people I didn’t know. With the technical and creative assistance of my life partner, I presented a slide show of the pictures in the book, which took about 10 minutes. The rest of the hour was spent answering insightful questions from the audience and the librarian. At the end of the hour, I offered bonus materials to anyone who ordered that night. People who had pre ordered or were “makers” (developmental editor, copy editor, illustrator, volunteer publicist friend, copyright advisor) also received bonus material. The librarian kept the online room open an extra ten minutes so everyone could order their books. A malfunctioning printing press delayed the publication until June 4. But now, a little over a week later, nearly all the pre orders have been sent out. BUDGET I am $1,000 over my $5,000 budget, which includes the print run, but most of the spending is behind me. I still have to place ads in the Black newspapers and decide which awards programs to enter. Awards programs are expensive, but I can put aside money monthly to cover the costs. The radio programs I am considering cost nothing and are excellent for selling books. While working on this book, I have appreciated all the people who have given me discounts on their services or volunteered their services because they believed in the book. It has been an uplifting experience. NOW THE WORK BEGINS Even though states are opening up, COVID-19 is not completely over. I don’t feel comfortable indoors with large crowds even though I am fully vaccinated. So, I will figure out how to promote the book during this transitional period. My fellow writers and independent publishers, I hope even some of this has been helpful.
  2. Hello, Promoter Before I begin, I want you to know that, for me, the language of “marketing”—even the word itself--is too close to the language of enslavement: branding, selling yourself, which I see as different from selling your book. Wherever these terms would appear, I will replace them. For this letter, I will only deal with nonfiction books. Yes, as a writer I will at some point need help selling my books. But I do think that if you, the promoter, understood me, the writer, better you would be more successful at promoting my books. Here is what I heard most often: “Figure out who is going to buy the book before you finish writing it.” Sure, there are some books that are rather concrete and straightforward: “The 10 Best Places for Fly Fishing in North America,” "Starting your Business on the Kitchen Table,” “Scientific Hair Care for Women of Color.” All of these books could conceivably have a promotion plan before the writer even set fingers to keyboard. For instance, fly fishing clubs and places both online and offline where fly fishers gather, people in unemployment support groups, and women of color who frequent beauty salons and read magazines, blogs , and websites, with information about hair care for women of color. All of these are obvious places to start. Note, I am not saying that creativity and imagination would not be essential for how to go about finding these readers. What all these books have in common, as different as they are, is it is pretty clear what these books are about from the beginning. By that I mean they are giving straightforward information about concrete topics. However, there are other types of nonfiction books. I will use my experience as an example. An Extraordinary Life: Josephine E. Jones began as a simple oral history. It was modeled on All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw by Theodore Rosengarten. Even though my mother raised me alone after my father left the marriage when I was six months old, was burdened by family members who borrowed money they never repaid, and worked on three jobs to ensure I had a superb education--the combination of her savings, my scholarships, summer employment, and work-study jobs resulted in a debt-free education for me through graduate school—until that spring day in 1993, I had never seen her depressed. This South Carolina sharecropper’s daughter, born in 1920, who arrived in New York in 1946 to work as a cook in private homes, became perhaps the first black woman in management at a Fortune 500 company, Standard Brands, now Kraft Foods. Her statement: “I don’t feel my life has come to anything” spurred me to write the book. Although I was honing down my mother’s story, focusing it while retaining her voice, something was missing. But I didn’t know what it was. Only after my mother casually mentioned that black people did not get Social Security—which began in 1935-- until 1951, did the book take a turn into a slightly different direction. This was several years into the writing. While reading history books that spanned my mother’s lifetime, I found this quote, which I included in the book, in Blanch Wiesen Cook’s Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938: Social Security was virtually segregated racially, and women were discriminated against. Agricultural and domestic workers…’casual labor’ or transient, part-time, seasonal, and service workers (such as laundry and restaurant workers)…and local, state, and federal government employees, including teachers, were excluded from the only ‘entitlements,’ old-age and unemployment insurance. As a result, 80 percent of black women were excluded; 60 percent of black men were excluded, and 60 percent of white women were excluded. Only half the workforce was included” (281-82). After that I read works on the Great Migration, the Red Summer of 1919, the role of black women in the suffrage movement, and the histories of the companies she worked for, among other books. Now the writing crackled. This simple oral history had now become a book that examined the history of African American women through the lens of my mother’s life. How could I possibly have started promoting the book earlier in the writing? The book had not yet become itself. The writer and the book are engaged in an intimate dance. Promotion requires leaving this dance to look at the book through the world’s eyes. If this is done too early, it is dangerous for the creation of the book. Once the rhythm of the dance had been established, I felt comfortable enough to temporarily leave it. Now I could see the book on library shelves, in the homes of the many people interested in women’s history, African American history, culinary art (there are stunning color pictures of my mother’s food creations in the book), and in college and high school classes featuring female voices, mother and daughter stories, and the Great Migration. Now in its second printing, and already in several libraries across the country, the book was accepted by the New York Public Library’s SchomburgCenter for Research in Black Culture in 2019. Books are not bricks. Some of them grow organically and become very different as they grow. We can not possibly figure out who is going to buy the book before we even know for sure what the book is. I hope this helps us work together better when we start promoting my next book.
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