Growing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.
When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.
For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”
I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.
I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.
When she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer. However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.
I spent nine years getting ready to birth a book. I would have preferred it take nine months, but everyone’s publishing journey is different. I like to think I gained some wisdom after surviving my debut launch. Wisdom I will share with all of you.
A good friend of mine debuted her first novel in March. She was busy planning for the big day. Blog posts. A party. Popping champagne. I think I startled her when I told her she wouldn’t have a launch day, she’d have a launch year. Yep! Once that novel goes live on Amazon, you will be banging the promotional drum for the rest of your life, or at least one year. We place pressure on ourselves for “the day” and we need some hoopla, but authors need to be connecting with readers and increasing discoverability for months, not days.
The publishing world has changed dramatically since I first put pen to paper. Thousands of books are placed on Amazon every year. Some authors don’t need to work on discoverability because everyone knows their name and is waiting breathlessly for their next novel. The rest of us have to build our reach organically. Is it work? Yes? Can it be fun? Most of the time.
How do you get readers to know you have a book in the digital world? First, you have to know who your readers are and where they hang out. I write Christian
fiction. I make a point to be on Christian blogs a couple of times a month. I will also guest on podcasts about writing topics or topics that connect me to readers. I survived breast cancer and I talk about that aspect of my life since it intersects with launching my debut novel. Readers may not be able to relate to writing a book, but they probably know someone who battled cancer.
I didn’t know any podcasters when I signed my first contract. I met podcasters at writing conferences and on Christian publishing loops. Opportunities abound in writing communities.
Have you visited your local libraries? Not to check out books, but to ask them to buy your books. Repeat after me, “The reference librarian is my friend.” Libraries don’t return books to your publisher. When they buy a book, it’s sold for life, or until it’s placed in the Friends of the Library sale. Walk into your local library and introduce yourself. This is your homework for the week. Hand the librarian a sell sheet and politely ask them to purchase your book. Would your book sell well in a different region of the country? Call a few libraries in that geographic area.
Also, visit local bookstores. Even those “Big Name” stores. You are a local author and customer. If you won’t ask them to carry your book, send a relative. My mom is one of my best marketers.
Don’t sweat your launch day. Enjoy the experience and be proactive every month to reach your readership. That first year will fly by.
Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. Barb writes romantic adventures for teens and adults in the Christian fiction and Mainstream markets. She is published in Biblical fiction and enjoys bringing little known Bible characters to light in her Tribes of Israel series. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.