Monday, May 22, 2017

Local Best Sellers, Social Media, The Three P's and more: My Thoughts on the Bocas Lit Fest Part I



Well, the 2017 edition of the famous Bocas Lit Fest has ended, and I am still crafting a blog post on it several days later, but I am determined as a Jane Austen character might say. VoilĂ  Part I!

I was happy to have a chance to attend this year’s festival. As usual there was an eclectic mix of inspiring me to write more, and for that alone I truly appreciate its existence and hope it keeps up the excellent momentum its generated.
The very interesting Bocas Book Nook
interesting activities - spoken word, live readings, story telling, discussions. There was even a Book Nook where people could take a book as long as they left one in exchange, an idea that delighted me in its simplicity even more so because I actually saw people using it. As usual the festival left me inspired.

I attended two seminars. The first one featured four people involved in publishing and writing giving information for “budding and self-published authors on crucial aspects of the book business”. They each spoke briefly giving advice for a few minutes and then took some questions from the audience.

This was an interesting session, and I’m glad I attended. Each of the presenters seemed just a tad unnerved at the thought that they might have to speak for twenty whole minutes. But I suppose it was because they each were hoping to have an informal talk and were a bit worried that people expected something long, involved and more technical. They all in the end were informal which the audience appreciated. This casual approach worked well.

The True Confessions of a Literary Agent

Malaika Adero’s (of Adero's Literary Tribe) talk was entitled “The True Confessions of a Literary Agent”. She reminded the audience that “You cannot write anticipating a bestseller”. She seemed aware of the unfortunate situation we have locally where authors must fall back on self-publishing if they want their work out there. She talked about knowing why you want to write and why you want to do this particular work.

She emphasized having a manuscript read by people - people with names even if you want to self-publish because you’ll need endorsements. I thought this might be tricky for a beginning writer. There may be authors out there who might be willing to support them, but how do you get to them? How do you avoid bombarding them with requests to read and endorse their work?

Media Relations for Writers

Just before the sessions began
Franka Phillip the features editor of The Trinidad Guardian gave me a lot to think about as she talked about “Media Relations for Writers”. She gave a lot of good information about how authors could get newspapers to review their books for the paper. She suggested -

· Sending a press release
· Sending an excerpt of the book
· Sending an audio of the book being read
· Sending high resolution pictures of the book cover and the author
· NOT sending DVDs and CDs
· Sending everything by flash drive or drop box
· Giving lots of options to contact the author

All this will hopefully encourage the editor to assign a freelancer to read the book and review it.

Franka actually gave me ideas for two possibilities. I proceeded to jump up during the Q&A to ask her a question. After apologizing profusely and crossing in front of several other participants, I excitedly asked if they were interested in getting some more book reviewers. (Ah ha an opportunity for one of my dream jobs.) Alas Franka, quite frankly (ha!) explained that she wasn’t hiring any reviewers right now. The Trinidad Guardian let a lot of people go recently, so they are not in the market for new people.

My other idea involved the options she gave of authors promoting themselves. I think that is something that can tie into the services I already provide. I’ll be posting about that quite soon.

How to Win at Social Media

I’d never heard of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s book Here Comes the Sun before the seminar. She held it up right in front of her as she spoke and drew attention to it as she talked about the importance of promoting your work and not being afraid to do it. She noted that women, especially Caribbean women, aren’t socialized to talk about themselves. It brought back memories of times when I’ve had people try to squelch me if they thought I was being boastful in some way.

The fact that Nicole was born and raised in Jamaica is inspiring though she lives in New York now. The part about living abroad always deflates me. It makes me fear that getting published is almost impossible outside the states, but other information I’ve received suggests that it’s not. More on that later.

Nicole’s topic was “How to Win at Social Media”. She certainly seems to have achieved it with her best selling book “Here Comes the Sun”. Her publisher has provided her with lots of marketing support through publicists  of course, but she's certainly done her part with her own social media. Nicole talked about the fact that she built her platform as a blogger. (Encouraging!) When someone asked about how she dealt with the “darker” side of interacting with folks on social media, she said that she hadn’t really had a negative experience. Maybe she hasn’t had much exposure to it though because she noted that her method of dealing with anyone “trollish” is to block them immediately. I always hear good arguments for and against engaging trolls myself. I suppose I’ll see what I feel like doing if I ever draw any.

5,000 and Counting: How to Make your Book a Best seller

I think everyone was just delighted with Betty Peter who presented on “5,000 and Counting: How to Make your Book a Best seller”. When the MC said that she probably had one of the most best selling book in Trinidad, I think everyone took notice. We surely didn’t expect the cheerful, sunshiny, motherly lady who got up on stage. No wonder when people got up to ask her questions, several of them asked if they could call her “Aunty Betty”. She happily agreed to this.



Of all the presenters, I think she inspired her audience the most with her sunny attitude. She was clearly devoted to her book Brown Sugar and Spice written for children and set during World War II. Her advice consisted of three Ps: personality (including not being afraid of rebuffs); passion (which involves believing in the quality of your book and talking about your book to everyone) and purpose. I was particularly struck by her idea of talking about your book as I tend to not be very vocal about my own writing, but I’m working on improving in that area.

Aunty Betty has been talking about her book in schools across the country, and this apparently has helped with sales. She’s also received requests for her book from people all around the world. On top of that, before she was finished speaking, more than one person had gotten up, stepped up to the microphone and expressed interest in working with her and wanted to talk to her after the forum! You couldn’t really deny that we saw her own advice playing out before her eyes.
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Another aspect I found of interest is that Aunty Betty didn’t self publish as so many people have done. Like me, she preferred working with a publisher. She found one that was willing to print her book, and from her description they did the bare minimum as our local printers always seem to do for fiction books. They also didn’t seem too concerned when she chose to take her book to another publisher. Surely they could have capitalized on this emerging local best seller, but I guess not.

My only issue was that this was yet another Caribbean book set in the past. It sounds delightful, and I’d love to read it, but sometimes I wonder if those are the only Caribbean books that are allowed to pass public approval. There are more genres to explore.


Anyway as usual, I found this Bocas Lit seminar pretty inspiring, and I left with the dough of several half formed ideas. It’s time to find the strength to shape them into something really tasty to share with everyone.

In Part II of this blog, I’ll discuss the other workshop I attended.

If you attended this seminar at the Bocas Lit Fest or any other workshops or events etc, please comment and let me know what you thought of your experience!

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