Tag Archives: writers

An Interview with Alexander Nderitu: African eBook Pioneer and Self-Publishing Expert

Introduction

Hey friends. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kenyan author, editor, and self-publishing expert Alexander Nderitu. He shared his perspective on a number of topics related to the literary game. Read on for the full transcript of our conversation.

Interview with Alexander Nderitu

Alexander Nderitu at a publishing summit

 

  1. You were Africa’s first e-novelist. What made you have the foresight to embrace eBooks when readers throughout the entire world still strongly favored print? 

It wasn’t really foresight, it was a convergence of factors; a perfect storm. It was the beginning of this century and the Internet was just starting to take hold in Africa. Back then we people used to go to cyber cafés to check if they had Yahoo! Mail the way you go to a post office! I had studied IT in college and relocated to Nairobi to find a job –and pursue my dream of being a writer. I already had a manuscript for a crime novel, titled When the Whirlwind Passes.  I checked the Yellow Pages for contacts of publishers, but there were just about five of them and I recognized them as school textbook manufacturers. They occasionally released a novel but their target demographic was, and still is, schoolchildren. Having grown up reading the likes of Frederick Forsyth, Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Agatha Christie, Jeffery Archer, Mary Higgins Clarke, and Robert Ludlum, I doubted the textbook people would be interested in my fast-paced crime novel inspired by a real-life high-society murder case in Italy. From UK writing magazines I had subscribed to, I learned about the then emerging e-book trend. There seemed to be a lot of excitement around it. Every other ad in the magazine was offering “e-book conversion services” or e-book software and devices. Novelist Stephen King experimentally wrote a series of short stories, titled Riding the Bullet, specifically designed for the e-book market.  An e-novel titled The Angels of Russia was nominated for the Booker Prize which was a first for a virtual book. I began to wonder why no one in Africa – where it’s harder to get published than the West – was experimenting with e-publishing. And then I realized that they weren’t aware of the technology and weren’t technologists like me.  I decided to pave the way. I converted my manuscript to e-book format and uploaded it on several platforms including eBookMall.com. I then promoted it myself, which is an important component of self-publishing. In November 2002, When the Whirlwind Passes was favorably reviewed in the Daily Nation’s Saturday magazine. The reviewer, Wayua Muli, ended the piece by saying, “If you can access the book, please do. It will be worth the energy.”

  1. How did you feel when a man as controversial as David Icke quoted your poem The Moon is Made of Green Cheese?

I didn’t mind it at all. I like David Icke. He’s a freethinker and so am I. I recently watched his documentary, Renegade. In it, Alice Walker, another freethinker and writer, praises him highly. I think some of Icke’s theories are outrageous but on the other hand, he’s been almost prophetic about some world events. I am an official of PEN International’s Kenya Centre and we believe in freedom of speech worldwide. Incidentally, the poem of mine that he shared on his website is not even controversial – it’s a love poem! I’ve been writing for a while so my poems have been published in numerous places including the East African Standard, the World Poetry Almanac, and the World Poetry Yearbook. Another of my love poems, Someone in Africa Loves You, was published on Commonwealth Poetry Postcards in the UK. It has since been translated into several languages. The most recent version is in Dholuo, courtesy of poet Griffins Ndhine. David Risher, co-founder of the Worldreader organization, once read out my poem Rhythm of Life, about Kenya’s famous marathon runners, at the opening of a Worldreader Summit in Nairobi. I was very flattered. I feel honoured every time someone shares or publishes my poetry.

  1. What do you think are some of the most significant challenges Kenyan authors face today?

If we were doing this interview in Kiswahili, I would have said: “Changa moto chungu nzima! Maswala kibao!” We face so many challenges. The most significant one is lack of finances. It takes a long time to write a book. A lot goes into it. There’s pre-writing, writing, and post-writing. So how do you pay the rent and provide your upkeep when you’re spending hundreds or thousands of hours on a project with no quick returns? Where will the self-publishing money come from? Besides that, we have a poor reading culture in the country, compared to the so-called 1st and 2nd World nations. We also have few trade books publishers, literary agents, book fairs, libraries, distribution channels, prizes, scholarships, fellowships, writer’s associations, and little gov’t support. Publishers say book piracy costs them millions of shillings every year, but most aspiring authors can’t even get published in the first place – they have nothing to be pirated!

  1. You’re the Deputy Secretary-General of the Kenyan branch of PEN. What are some of the benefits authors receive when they join PEN?

First off, PEN International is the oldest and largest literary movement in the world. It mainly focuses on freedom of speech and the promotion of literature across borders. It’s also well known for coming to the defence of what they refer to as “Writers at Risk.” These are usually scribes and journos being harassed by repressive regimes and other dark forces. Locally, we have organized creative writing and human rights workshops, promoted individual writers via the media, organized book launches, connected writers with overseas travel opportunities, and participated in literary events and discourse.

  1. What made you decide to help authors self-publish their writing? 

That’s a great question because this was never on my bucket list, but it’s now what I do for a living! Because I am too prolific to pursue local mainstream publishers, I often self-publish my own work, both online and offline. Over the years, some authors asked me to help them self-publish their own books due to the glacial speed of the mainstream and their preference for “curriculum material.” Initially, I used to turn them down or recommend other people because I felt that working on other people’s books would mean shelving my own career. About three years ago I had a change of heart, especially when I recommended a potential client to another self-publishing consultant and he let the author down badly. I started doing the self-publishing services myself and realized that I actually enjoyed it and, properly organized, it can be quite profitable. I have an illustrator, proofreaders, and associate editors to help me out.

  1. What do you believe are some of the major benefits of self-publishing?

It’s almost impossible for a first-time author to get mainstream published in this country. And even if one’s manuscript is accepted, it will take more than a year for it to appear in print. With self-publishing the author takes charge of the process and can get everything done much quicker. The author also retains full copyright ownership and responsibility for their work. It’s also more collaborative. The client gets to review the content as it is polished and weigh in on the cover, formatting and so on. Publishing houses deal with many books and issues at once. They don’t have time to keep e-mailing back and forth with individual authors. One major publisher I was on a panel with at Daystar University revealed that they usually contact their authors just once per year – when it’s time for the royalty payment. Self-publishing is more hands-on and cozy.

  1. What’s a better option for a new author: choosing to self-publish or seeking traditional publishing opportunities? Why?

First, I’d like to make it clear that this is by no means an indictment of mainstream publishing. I don’t call it “traditional publishing” because self-publishing is actually older, but that’s a story for another day. Whether to seek a publisher or go it alone is a personal choice that is informed by one’s own objective, resources, and options. For example, if you’ve written a YA novel that is targeted at school children and you’re hoping that it will one day become a “set book” or be considered for a Jomo Kenyatta Prize, then your best option is a mainstream publisher. That’s their domain. They serve the school market and their biggest client is the gov’t. It’s not a happy marriage, but again that’s a story for another day! However, if you have written a book of fiction or non-fiction that you feel is unlikely to be touched by major publishers then you may as well commit your own resources and invest in your own dream. Examples of why your book may not get past the “readers’”at publishing houses include adult themes, narrow target market, crude language, taboo topics, vernacular language, and author name holding no weight. Think of an ordinary 60-year-old businessman who has lived a normal but enriching life. He feels he wants to tell his life story and share the lessons he learnt along the way, for the benefit of the younger generation. If that man were to cobble together his memoir and send it off to publishers in East Africa for consideration, he would most likely die before the manuscript was even accepted, let alone published. I remember a mzee calling in to Kameme FM Book Club some years ago and whining that he had been looking for publisher for 20 years now!

  1. You also help authors market their books. If an author wants to work with you, what should they expect in terms of marketing efforts? 

I have been in the book business for a long time and I have made many contacts and learnt many lessons. I use the contacts and expertise I have gathered to help or advise my clients. For example, I can coach them on “author branding,” help them get publicity, recommend them to festival organizers, create online and offline advertising campaigns, throw a book launch, and so on. You have to understand that there are very many books in the world as a whole. I don’t see the point of manufacturing a new book and then keeping quiet about it. One time, the PEN Kenya president and I were at a university function and a member of the faculty there approached us with copies of a novel she had self-published but never promoted. Even her colleagues didn’t know she was an author! That’s terrible.

  1. Are you available to help authors self-publish and market their books regardless of the author’s geographic location? 

Oh, yes! One of the manuscripts I am working on now was authored by a lady in West Africa and she was recommended to me by a client in South Africa. The world is flat, thanks to technology. The physical location is no hindrance at all. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, many meetings can be held remotely.

  1. What were some of the biggest success stories you’ve seen as a self-publishing consultant?

Last year, I was invited to Turkana County where I conducted a literary workshop that gave birth to the first Turkana Creative Writers’ Association and the development of several books that are currently in the pipeline. One of the books is a very important and heavily researched non-fiction book authored by Titus Ekiru. It’s about the culture and history of the Turkana people and we will release it later in the year. I also helped banker and motivational speaker Oltesh Thobias bring his first book, From Campus to the Boardroom, to life and now we are working on another one. He’s already doing some online videos to promote the upcoming book. There are many clients’ projects that I am excited about. One thing that has surprised me is the diversity of the genres. I am working on everything from motivational books to YA literature to medical research methodology! And I haven’t even been doing this for long!

  1. How much do your services cost and can authors pick and choose which services they’d like to purchase?

Costs vary. For example, the COVID-19-induced recession has caused clients to understandably negotiate downwards. But the ideal cost is around Kshs 100,000, without including the printing costs. And yes, the quotation is like an à la carte menu. Some people choose to design their own covers or forego printing and just have an e-book. It’s all up to them. Regarding the cost of a book, I can recall watching an official of a major publishing house on TV explaining why publishers are so hesitant to take risks on every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a manuscript. He said that to develop one book properly – from beginning to end – costs about Kshs 1 million. I concur, although I’d say its slightly higher now due to inflation. If a client has that kind of a budget, they can expect an international-standard job, complete with a book launch and national distribution.

  1. What advice would you give to a new author who feels overwhelmed by the immense competition in the self-publishing world? 

I wouldn’t say there’s much competition in the self-publishing world. Very few people in this part of the world have books under their belt. I run a Facebook group for writers that has 1.5k members but I’ve noticed that the majority of them are either writers bloggers or aspiring. Producing a book is not as easy as some might think. However, as I wrote in an article for Agbowó magazine, I have always felt that authors – especially self-published ones – need to do more to promote their own works. Books don’t sell themselves.

  1. Any personal projects you’re currently working on?

Yes, as always. One of them is not literary; it has to do with talent development in general. Another one that we will announce when the world regains a semblance of normality will showcase fresh literary voices in the entire East African region. For example, do you know any writers under 40 years old from South Sudan? What about Rwanda and Burundi? We’re going to make a difference. My partners include Joanna Cockerline, an award-winning writer and educator from Canada, and Munira Hussein, a sensational Kenyan poet. We are open to linking up with more partners, be they publishers, universities, book sellers, festival organizers, critics or other literature stakeholders. I think this project will be especially useful for university literature students. Anyone who wishes to come on board can contact me via my website: www.AlexanderNderitu.com

  1. Do you have any parting words for our audience?

Publishers are not the enemy. Editors are not the enemy. Literary critics are not the enemy. The enemies of writers include procrastination, stubbornness, plagiarism, lack of discipline, lack of business sense, and lack of tenacity. Nothing good comes easily, even if you switch careers. If you want to know who’s really keeping you from writing, look in the mirror. That’s the culprit!

Alexander Nderitu’s Biography

Alexander Nderitu is a Kenyan poet, playwright and novelist. His first book, ‘When the Whirlwind Passes’ has the distinction of being Africa’s first digital novel. Some of his writings have been translated into Swedish, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Swahili. In 2014, his poem ‘Someone in Africa Loves You‘ represented Kenyan literature on Poetry Postcards distributed during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. His fiction is available worldwide via the Worldreader app and devices. In 2017, he was named by ‘Business Daily‘ newspaper as one of Kenya’s ‘Top 40 Under 40 Men’. Nderitu is also the Deputy Secretary-General of Kenyan PEN and the Kenyan Editor of the international theatre news portal, TheTheatreTimes.com.

Interested in Being Interviewed?

The Literary Game is looking to interview authors. If you’d like to be interviewed, simply send us an email with a cover letter telling us a bit about your writing and background. We’ll get in touch if there’s a fit.

Specifically, we’re looking to feature writers who satisfy one or more of the following criteria:

  • Writers who have overcome significant hardship to achieve success.
  • Writers who have a unique life story.
  • Writers who have controversial or unorthodox opinions about writing and publishing.
  • Writers who have made a difference in the world.
  • English-language writers based in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, Italy, and Latin America.

Apply today by clicking here.

Can Current Events Advance Your Writing Career?

sxe

2020: A Unique Year

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that 2020 has been a tumultuous year. Here in the United States, we’ve had the world’s worst outbreak of COVID-19, a major economic downturn that has left nearly 50 percent of Americans unemployed, and a national reckoning on race relations after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. And we’re only six months into the year…

Still, even with all that’s going on in the world, as writers we must continue to write and we must also continue to do whatever we can to advance our writing careers.

Shawn Hudson and Just Us

img_4554

For years, I’ve been sharing my advice on the finer points of the literary game with my friend Shawn Hudson. Shawn and I first met when I was the faculty advisor to Monroe College’s Poetry Club back in 2013. Shawn’s raw, gritty poetic style caught my attention. When I first heard his poem Project Windows, I knew he was a formidable talent. Despite the fact that I left Monroe shortly after we met, Shawn and I never lost touch.

Not all writers have a core ethos to why they write, but Shawn definitely does. He seeks to use his writing as a springboard to expose some of the hardships the Black and LGBTQ communities face in the United States and work to overcome these barriers to true equality and justice. To those ends, Shawn penned an excellent novel, Just Us, which centers on a fictional corrupt police department. Shawn later adapted Just Us into a screenplay.

The last time Shawn and I spoke, I told him now is the time for him to go full blast on pitching his screenplay. With Hollywood now giving serious attention to working with talent from underrepresented communities and with the Black Lives Matter movement informing the public on the often deadly outcomes faced by unarmed Black people stopped by police, now is Shawn’s best opportunity to get his screenplay considered by major studios.

That’s not to say that if things go back to “normal,” Shawn doesn’t have a chance to sell his screenplay. Of course that’s a possibility. But why not take opportunities as they present themselves? After all, selling your screenplay is not an easy task.

How Applicable Is This Advice To Me?

OK, that’s all well and good, but what if my writing doesn’t tackle issues of racial justice? What if I don’t write screenplays? What if I’m just a novelist? Does this still apply to me?

Absolutely!

If you’re a novelist who wrote a book about a pandemic, go ahead and pitch agents now!

If you’re a short story writer who wrote a piece of historical fiction about the Great Depression, go ahead and pitch the most competitive literary magazines now!

If you’re a poet who wrote a chapbook of poems about invasions from outer space…well, let’s see what the next six months have in store!

A Simple 3-Step Process

OK, now how can I turn this theoretical knowledge into a practical approach? It’s simple. Just follow these three steps:

  1. Pay attention to the news. If you haven’t already made a habit of following the news, do it.
  2. Find a link between current events and your writing. As you’re reading your favorite periodical or watching your favorite newscast, jot down some notes if anything you read or see is relevant to your previously unpublished/unsold material.
  3. Pitch pitch pitch! Once you’ve identified a link between your writing and something in the news cycle, pitch appropriate venues. As an extra tip, approach publishers or studios that have an explicit interest in this topic as part of their core identity or who have put out similar material in the past.

The Takeaway

If you haven’t yet been able to advance your literary career yet, you might just need to wait until the news cycle catches up with your dusty manuscript or screenplay. Once it does, seize that opportunity!

Questions?

pexels-photo-356079

Do you have any questions about how to apply this approach or any other topic related to the literary game? Shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to help you.

Share, Like, and Subscribe

pexels-photo-267355

If you find this content helpful, please share, like, and subscribe. Thank you!

An Interview with Haroun Risa: Author and Humanitarian

Introduction

Hey friends. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kenyan author, actor, and screenwriter Haroun Risa. We discussed his novel series Mombasa Raha, My Foot, the alarmingly high frequency of human trafficking and sex tourism in the coastal regions of Kenya, and much more. Check it out below.

IMG-20180718-WA0003

Interview with Haroun Risa

Q: There are many topics authors could choose to write about; why did you decide to tackle the issues of sexual tourism and human trafficking in Kenya?

A: The issue of human trafficking and sex tourism is something that I haven’t seen anyone make a fictional story in order to raise awareness against an issue that has affected communities across the Kenyan coast. So I said to myself that I should highlight a real-life issue that has been there and continues to.

Q: How would you assess the response from the Kenyan government to sexual tourism and human trafficking?

A: The Kenyan government is yet to assess the problem because the tourists are bringing massive revenue to Kenya, so that explains why some issues like this are blatantly overlooked.

Q: Could international organizations like UNICEF do more to address these serious problems?

A: International organizations can be able to do a lot, if they actually team up with the local people doing something to stop the human trafficking from going on even more.

Q: Are there “tip-offs” that could help government officials, law enforcement, and everyday community members better identify people suspected of engaging in predatory sexual behavior?

A: Poverty is what really identifies the people involved, because their children are sold off mostly by the guardians to the traffickers for profit.

Q. What steps did you have to take to form a partnership with HAART Kenya?

A: In order to get to know the people involved, I had to invite a representative from HAART Kenya to my first novel book launch so that she would speak more about what the organization has done so far.

Q: How much research did you undertake before/while writing Mombasa Raha, My Foot?

A: I had to do a good deal of research on the topic for the sake of accuracy, and also I included a bit of what I went through.

Q: Despite the ordeals they face, your characters possess a remarkable dignity. Was that a conscious choice you decided to make while writing Mombasa Raha, My Foot?

A: It was a conscious choice, because I’m also planning on making the film adaptation of the novels, so the characters have to possess a degree of dignity.

Q: You’re not only an author of fiction, but also an actor and screenwriter. Which do you find most fulfilling: novel writing, screenwriting, or acting? Why?

A: Novel writing has made me feel content with my talents, but acting also gives me some satisfaction because, in the end, I’m still fulfilling my dreams.

Q: Mombasa Raha, My Foot is very cinematic in structure, with a fast pace and many quick scene “cuts.” How much do you think your experience as an actor and screenwriter has influenced your approach to writing novels?

A: It has influenced a lot, based on my acting experience I’m able to know how to develop characters who can captivate an audience upon reading.

Q: What would you say are some of the unique challenges and opportunities Kenyan authors face?

A: Printing good quality copies of their novels at an affordable price. This is among the main reasons why printing manuscripts is challenging at times.

Q: What are some of your biggest influences as a writer?

A: My own life experience, for starters, which has resulted in me making brilliant characters and story development that suited my topic and novels that followed.

Q: What type of feedback have you received from your readers?

A: Most have been talking to me about making the film adaptation of the novels, and even when buying the paperback of the first novel, they normally have a good feeling of “actually holding a novel.”

Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

A: Normally around eight months to a year, depending on the number of pages and story development.

Q: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

A: Not that tied up, but pretty busy with story development and structure because once I’ve started I normally go up to three chapters.

Q: Aside from your literary and film-related pursuits, you’re interested in palm reading. How did you become fascinated by palmistry?

A: A South African palm reader gave me a detailed reading of my palms, and a good number of what someone goes through appears clearly on their palms. This made me more interested in the art of palm reading.

Q: Do you have any parting words for our audience?

A: It is truly important to never give up on whatever talent or dream you may want accomplished.

Purchase Your Copies of the Mombasa Raha, My Foot Novel Series

The first FIVE books in the Mombasa Raha, My Foot novel series are now available on Amazon. You can purchase all five Kindle editions for $49.95 USD. Grab your five novels through this link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085NJZG3X

Haroun Risa’s Biography

Haroun Risa is an actor, author, and scriptwriter from Nairobi, Kenya who has been featured on both local and international film and TV productions, including the feature film 18 Hours alongside the acclaimed Netflix production, Sense8.

His interests range from palm reading to traveling, filmmaking, meditation, world music, reading novels, documentaries, journalism, acting, dancing, motorsports, soccer, basketball, and writing.

Haroun Risa is using the Mombasa Raha, My Foot series to raise awareness against human trafficking and sex tourism in Kenya, joining hands with HAART Kenya, the NGO in Kenya known for fighting both cross-border and mainland trafficking.

He has also gotten into the agroforestry world and has been part of Emesera Forest Tree Nurseries Ltd., an organization known for advocating for the planting of the fibrous-root, clonal variety of the eucalyptus tree, among other beneficial agroforestry projects.

Haroun Risa’s Social Media

You can find Haroun Risa on major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to catch a glimpse of his blog posts alongside the snippets of productions he has been featured in or interviews from various TV shows.

Help Haroun spread the word by using the hashtag #mombasarahamyfoot on social media.

Interested in Being Interviewed?

The Literary Game is looking to interview authors. If you’d like to be interviewed, simply send us an email with a cover letter telling us a bit about your writing and background. We’ll get in touch if there’s a fit.

Specifically, we’re looking to feature writers who satisfy one or more of the following criteria:

  • Writers who have overcome significant hardship to achieve success.
  • Writers who have a unique life story.
  • Writers who have controversial or unorthodox opinions about writing and publishing.
  • Writers who have made a difference in the world.
  • English-language writers based in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.

Apply today by clicking here.

The Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Writing

Introduction

I didn’t start writing until I was twenty.

I don’t mean I didn’t start taking writing seriously until I was twenty, I mean I didn’t write anything that wasn’t for a school assignment until I was twenty.

No short stories.

No poems.

No novels.

No nonfiction.

OK, scratch that last one. I did write about thirty pages of a memoir on my old IBM Aptiva. I have no idea where that partial manuscript is, and that’s probably for the best.

pexels-photo-257881

When I transferred to Beloit College, I decided to become a Creative Writing major because it seemed like fun, and it was, but back then I had many, many, MANY misconceptions about what being a writer meant.

Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew About Writing As A Twenty-Year-Old Absolute Beginner

1. Writing is rewriting.

You just finished your novel. Great. Now the fun really begins.

2. Rewriting is not a quick process.

God may have created the Earth in six days; however, you will not complete your manuscript in anywhere near that time frame.

sky-earth-galaxy-universe

3. Working with an editor isn’t optional, but necessary.

My short stories wouldn’t have been published without the assistance of Rairigh Drum, who was my developmental editor. My screenplays wouldn’t have attracted the attention of a New York Times best-selling author and a screenwriter who has worked with Spielberg without the assistance of a developmental editor. My nonfiction book wouldn’t have…you get the point.

4. Writing well isn’t enough, you need to think like an entrepreneur to get noticed.

Is it ugly? Yeah, maybe, but the days of the pure writer who refuses to attend to the business end of things is over. Those writers are doomed to obscurity.

pexels-photo-936137

5. Success doesn’t come overnight.

Trust the process. If you know that you’re good, go out and prove it. Stay the course, and don’t lose your confidence if you don’t rapidly advance.

6. Networking with other writers (and, if possible, with editors, publishers, and agents) can open up many doors.

Remember that saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well, it’s both. Don’t be isolated.

7. Most publishers will have zero interest in your writing and will reject it, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent.

Publishers and agents receive an incredibly large amount of submissions. They also usually have very strict criteria about what types of work they publish/represent. Receiving rejections is inevitable. I’ve had over 60 short stories and poems published and scout publications carefully, and still only have an acceptance rate of about 25-30%.

8. You can’t half ass your way to quality writing; you have to whole ass it.

If you’re planning on going through the motions, just put down your pen and give it up.

donkey-fence-nature-outside-70369

9. Not all writers are miserable people, and you don’t have to be miserable to write.

Although I won’t lie, sometimes it helps. 😉

10. You don’t have to drink to excess to write well, but sometimes it can be fun.

Nostrovia!

alcohol-hangover-event-death-52507

Conclusion

“He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory.” – Lao Tzu

Don’t make mistakes based on incorrect perspectives about being a writer.

Make writing a consistent habit, work with an editor that you can trust, network, realize this is a process, and try to keep a sense of humor. If you do all that, and you have some talent, you’ll be more than fine.

What Do You Wish You Knew When You Started Writing?

Leave a comment below!

pexels-photo-247708

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

It’s Not You, It’s Me: A Truth About Rejection Letters

Introduction

If you’ve ever received a rejection letter from a publisher or literary agent, then you know just how much it sucks.

pexels-photo-278312

But there is some good news.

Really, it’s them, it’s not you.

The Biggest Reason Why Your Writing Gets Rejected

I have a close friend who has an almost ungodly amount of perseverance. Usually, that’s an amazing thing to behold. Usually.

pexels-photo-925960

A friend of hers is a poet. I’m the editor-in-chief of a literary magazine. Hey, wouldn’t it be great to feature her poetry in your magazine, Alfonso?

Nope.

While my friend’s friend’s poetry is strong, and she’s quite accomplished, this woman’s work was completely outside of the parameters of the writing we publish at Beautiful Losers Magazine.

Does the fact that this woman’s writing was rejected for our magazine mean she was a bad poet? Absolutely not.

The truth is that every agent, publisher, and literary magazine has VERY specific requirements of what they’re looking for. If you aren’t an exact match for those parameters, your writing will probably be rejected.

pexels-photo-998850

And it doesn’t mean you suck as a writer.

And it doesn’t mean that particular piece sucked.

It just means that you need to find a better home for your writing.

If you’ve received tons of rejections, you’d better spend a little bit more time finding an appropriate place for your writing.

Now if you’ve been doing this legwork and still are receiving tons of rejections, you may want to consider having your work edited by a professional editor.

pexels-photo-271265

Conclusion

Treat agents and publishers like members of your preferred sex. You wouldn’t marry just anyone, would you?

Don’t send your writing to agents and publishers without screening.

Unless you like being left at the altar, you masochist you.

pexels-photo-924885

Like What You Read? Like What You Read!

pexels-photo-267355

If you found this post helpful, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, then share this post on social media.

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

Do You Need A Degree To Be A Writer?

School Days

I’ve always been a writer. In what seems like a former life now, I used to be a teacher.

pexels-photo-207705

When I was teaching, my students knew I was a writer.

Probably because I wouldn’t shut up about it. You know those bartenders who are actors or those waiters who are musicians. Yeah, I was that guy.

My students got a kick out of me (and hopefully learned a little something). They were all great in their own ways (well, almost all were); however, many years later, I find that some of the most memorable students were the writers. Of course.

When I was teaching, students with a talent and passion for creative writing were always eager to share their stories and other writing with me.

You may want to replace the word eager with desperate. But hey, we writers want to get read, otherwise what’s the point, right?

Rashad’s science-fiction short stories were incredible. Of course, the factual descriptions involving smoking cigarettes were inaccurate. But I suppose that’s a good thing for an 8th grader.

pexels-photo-335221

Jibriel’s screenplays for short films were excellent. He wasn’t a student of mine, or even in my school, but word about my second career spread and Jibriel sought me out. I’m glad he did.

Should Rashad, Jibriel, or any other aspiring writer pursue a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing or an MFA?

The answer, for most writers, is no. Here are five reasons why I think you should probably skip the MFA or BA in Creative Writing:

1. Writers Hate Other Writers

What kind of person really wants to be around other writers all the time?

You love writing now, but how would you feel about it if you were talking about writing all the time? Would studying creative writing that intensely sap your interest?

And, of course, there are professional jealousies.

Could you handle other writers in your program receiving more recognition than you?

Could you handle your own creative writing being judged harshly by other writers in the program? Would this discourage you?

2. Never-Ending Student Loans

Are you ready to embrace debt?

Because that’s what you’ll face unless you’re from an affluent family, can land a scholarship, or choose to attend a low-cost state or city university.

3. Insularity and Lack of Adventure

If you want to write something worth reading, then you’d better have a wide array of experiences.

I suppose interesting stories can be written about downing vodka shots for Adderall, grinding to Teach Me How To Dougie at a frat party, or performing a bell run. Maybe.

But remember, the only thing that’s positively more boring than stories about writers are stories about students in MFA programs.

pexels-photo-450441

4. You Can Do It Yourself

Writing is an art, not a science. Therefore, some degree of natural talent is extremely useful. If you have talent, all you need to do is hone it. If you don’t, cut your losses.

Write consistently, embrace honest critiques, dedicate yourself to continual improvement, read as much as you can on improving craft, and soak up an array of interesting experiences.

If you do all of the above, you’ll soon be writing better than many who undertake formal study in creative writing.

5. These Programs May Stifle Creativity

Want to be confined to writing in certain forms, on certain topics, or within other parameters that limit the creative process? Hell no.

Conclusion 

If you’re really really really serious about being a writer, then you can ditch the creative writing program without any negative consequences.

And if you’re not serious, why are you wasting your time reading this blog?

Like What You Read? Like What You Read!

pexels-photo-267355

If you found this post helpful, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, then share this post on social media!

If you’re not sure if a creative writing program may be right for you, leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

How To Land High-Paying Writing Jobs

I landed a five-figure screenwriting gig without ever having sold a screenplay before.

pexels-photo-764340

I landed a similarly lucrative nonfiction writing gig without ever having written a non-fiction book before, or anything longer than a short story.

Regardless of what my mom told me growing up, I’m not special. If I can do it, so can you.

Moral Of The Story: Listen To Lauren

My fiancée Lauren and I have a relationship that’s like a sitcom. A problem arises. She proposes a solution. I go my own way in a bullheaded fashion. My own devices fail. I reluctantly try her way and succeed.

pexels-photo-792729

Yes, she is always right. I hope she never reads this admission. Let’s make this our special secret, okay?

Anyway, one day, after years of providing editing services, I wanted to get my feet wet and land a client as a writer, not as an editor. Lauren suggested Upwork.com.

I decided to give it a try. After a few searches, I turned to her in disgust and said something to the effect of “Why the hell would anyone write a 50,000 word book for $100?”

If you’re willing to write a book for $100, and you live in the US, EU, or any other developed country, you’re a fool. Believe me, I told this to Lauren. Over and over again until she got sick of hearing my self-righteous statement. And a couple more times long after she had grown tired of my ranting.

pexels-photo-277870

But, Lauren told me to stick with it. Reluctantly, I did.

And I landed a five-figure screenwriting client.

Without having sold or optioned a screenplay at that point.

Five figures certainly beats $100, right?

pexels-photo-545065

Full Gordon Gekko Mode

Okay, quick interlude. I know some people are probably annoyed at the money talk. To those people, let me quote British author Samuel Johnson, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

There is NOTHING ugly about getting large sums of money for your writing. If you want to turn writing into a career, you’re going to need those large sums of money. If writing is just a hobby, that’s fine, but if you want to make writing your primary profession, then you’re going to need to be able to get people to pay you for your work.

And pay you more than $100.

How I Landed My First Client

So, how did I land this client? Let me walk you through the steps:

Step 1 – I applied for the gig.

As Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.”

Step 2 – After no response, I sent a follow-up message.

No response does not mean no. No response means you need to do more to convince me.

Step 3 – I steered the prospective client to a phone call.

We established rapport, shared values, and a willingness to learn about the topic.

Step 4 – I sent writing samples.

I sent him a previous screenplay I had written.

Step 5 – I kept sending follow-ups after he went cold.

He agreed to work with me and gave me insights into writing his screenplay, but then went cold for ten months. I kept sending him follow-ups, spaced long apart so as not to annoy, but regularly enough to be assertive. I never was judgmental or passed blame. I’m a professional and I acted the part.

Step 6 – I flew out West to meet with him.

There, I got a chance to further develop the rapport, learn more about the project, and iron out the details. It was a success!

And he wasn’t the only client I landed.

With A Little Help From Your Friends…

Ever hear the old saying, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know?

Yeah, sometimes that’s true.

I landed another great client as a referral from a friend. She knew that I was looking for writing clients. Another friend of hers was looking for a talented writer.

Yes, sometimes it’s really that easy.

A Whole Bunch Of Other Ways To Land High-Paying Writing Clients

Of course, these aren’t the only ways to land high-paying clients on great writing projects. Here are a few other methods you may want to consider:

  1. Craigslist. Yes, there are a lot of flakes there, but there are diamonds in the rough.
  2. Create a website and blog, then hit social media hard. Get yourself out there online. Lots of people do, though. The key is quantity and quality. Provide immense value and provide it as often as you can.
  3. Develop an expertise. Coupling talent as a writer with a subject expertise puts you ahead of nearly all competition when finding ghostwriting gigs.
  4. Target business leaders. Use your professional network to find the alpha dogs of the business world. They’re often far too busy to write books on their own, and pay ghostwriters well.
  5. Make business cards and leave them in well-trafficked areas. Go to affluent neighborhoods and leave business cards behind in coffee shops, libraries, hotel common areas, etc.

Conclusion

Whether through a friend, Upwork.com, Craigslist, a website/blog/social media presence, sharpening up on a skill, targeting your friendly neighborhood CEO, or hitting the rich neighborhoods with a stack of business cards, writers don’t have to be poor (even if it’s fun to joke about).

Now go out and land a high-paying gig and make me proud!

What’s Your Story?

Have you ever landed a high-paying writing gig? How did you do it? Share in the comments below. I’m open to guest posts for compelling and insightful stories about this topic.

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

pexels-photo-267355

If you found this post entertaining or informative, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, why not share this post on social media?

If you have any questions about landing high-paying writing gigs, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

How To Find A Literary Agent For Your Manuscript (Part Two)

Today, let’s talk about the most fun part of landing an agent—the query letter.

pexels-photo-261763

Please don’t follow the example of the picture above. Above all, your query letter should be intelligible.

Your Opening Salutation

First things first, you need to start with an opening salutation. Just not any of the following:

Dear Agent:

BAD! Most agencies have several agents on staff. Find the one that most closely matches your book’s content and use their name.

Also, if no agents represent your type of material, don’t apply to that agency.

Your vampire novel will not go over well with an agent who represents literary fiction.

woman-gothic-dark-horror-39628

Agents talk. Word can get around about unprofessional authors.

Dear Alfredo Colesono:

BAD! Some people have difficult names to spell. In my case, it’s called being of Italian descent.

pexels-photo

Expect an automatic rejection if you misspell an agent’s name. It’s a sign of sloppiness that will be assumed to carry over into your writing.

Hi Alfonso,

BAD! Don’t be too informal with an agent until you develop a rapport. Address them by their surname (e.g. Ms. Howell; Mr. Chan) in your query.

I’ve just written a novel that will change literature forever. And it’ll make you at least a million bucks. Only an idiot wouldn’t represent me. You’re not an idiot, are you?

BAD! A writer who toots his/her own horn only means that no one is tooting it for you. Let your work do the talking and save the grandiose statements for your mom.

laughter-laugh-fun-mom

Query Letter Contents

So, what should you have in your query letter?

A pitch/synopsis of your work, usually in about two or three paragraphs.

A brief 3rd person biography with your writing credentials. If you lack writing credentials, include either interesting facts about you or your strongest accomplishments in another field.

For fiction, you’ll frequently include part of your manuscript. The number of pages requested varies, but industry standards usually range from three pages to three chapters.

A few agents will only want a query letter.

A few agents will want your whole manuscript.

Most agents (though certainly not all) will want your manuscript pasted into the body of an email.

Don’t send attachments if an agent wants your sample in the body of an email. It will be deleted unread.

Follow The Rules and Avoid the Slush Pile

The moral of the story is be nice to your agents and give them what they want!

There’s So Much More

What’s a synopsis?

How do I do a chapter outline?

Why do I need a market analysis?

What is this thing called “platform” and why do agents like authors with one?

Do I need to write a nonfiction manuscript before pitching it to agents?

I hope to get into these topics in subsequent posts. Until then, write write write!

I Need All The Help I Can Get

pexels-photo-267355

If you found this post entertaining or informative, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, why not share this post on social media?

If you have any questions about landing an agent, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Find A Literary Agent For Your Manuscript (Part One)

pexels-photo-977907

If you’re anything like me, then the thought of having to land a literary agent can provoke any number of responses. These include, but are not limited to:

Sobbing uncontrollably while cursing the gods for being born a writer.

collector-s-doll-angel-guardian-angel-sad-160720

Checking Facebook. Then Twitter. Then your email. Then your texts. Then Facebook again.

pexels-photo-212289

Considering whether magic or the law of attraction can be used to get you an agent without any bit of effort on your part.

pexels-photo-607817

Hopefully, you’ll eventually come to your senses and scrap these less-than-useful approaches. But what then?

It Starts With A Book

$9.90 and Internet access. That’s all it takes to move your literary career forward and begin querying agents…

Of course, we’re writers, so having $9.90 and Internet access isn’t a guarantee.

business-money-pink-coins

Oh yeah, one other thing, you’ll need a completed manuscript (if you’re a fiction writer) or a pitch for a workable idea (if you’re a nonfiction writer).

Not too much to ask, right?

For $9.90, you can purchase the E-book version of the Writer’s Market 2018 from Google Play. This book contains a comprehensive list of literary agencies that work with authors of all types, from middle grade fantasy authors to romance novelists and anything in-between.

And the best part is the Writer’s Market tells you exactly what types of books these agencies are looking for, eliminating any guesswork on your part.

Follow Those Submission Guidelines

Once you find an agency that works within your form and genre, all you have to do is visit their website.

Well, that’s not ALL you have to do. But it’s still pretty easy—trust me!

Different agencies, and agents within the agencies, will have different submission guidelines. Please please please follow those guidelines. Agents, like editors and publishers, will curse you and the next ten generations of your family if you don’t follow submission guidelines to a T.

How do I know that they’ll curse you and the next ten generations of your family? Well, after all, I am the co-founder and an editor at Beautiful Losers, a super cool literary magazine which you should totally check out. (Yes, this is a shameless plug!)

1_FazouVi6wshEctIA0KAQ8g@2x

Oh wait. About the cursing thing. That’s probably just me. I should get some help for that.

But seriously, follow those guidelines. You want to be seen as a professional, don’t you?

Many Agencies Have Multiple Agents

So it’s on you to find the agent that’s the best match for your manuscript.

Yes, it’s on you. No pressure…

Okay. Deep breaths. Try some more. Back with me?

The good news is that almost every agency has summaries of the literary interests of their agents. Find the agent that’s the closest match for the genre, style, and age target of your manuscript. If you’ve written a darkly comic picture book, don’t query an agent that specializes in upmarket women’s fiction.

That is, unless you like wasting people’s time. If that’s the case, you’re most likely a horrible person that would be awfully fun to hit the bars and make some poor life decisions with.

pexels-photo-256621

But you’re used to making poor life decisions already, right? After all, you chose to become a writer.

Don’t hate me! I jest because I’m from Brooklyn. The sarcasm is love. Really!

pexels-photo-634038

But Wait, There’s More

Query letters.

Author bios.

Synopses.

Market analyses.

Chapter outlines.

And more. Much more!

And I promise I’ll tell you all about how to navigate through it soon.

But first I need some sleep.

pexels-photo-272064

Yes, you horrible person who likes to waste agents’ time, you may be fun to hit the bars with, but it’s only a little after 10 pm and I’m calling it a night.

I may or may not be a horrible person, but clearly it’s safe to assume I’m not much fun to hit the bars with.

Blah Blah Blah

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading (you may want to get your mental health checked!)

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may have noticed this post is very different from what you’re used to seeing here. I still want to provide helpful advice for aspiring and emerging writers, but the professorial tone is gone. You see, I’ve recently discovered that I’m actually not Ben Stein’s character from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Shocking, right?

If you found this post entertaining or informative, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, try sharing this post on social media!

pexels-photo-267355

If you have any questions about landing an agent, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

If you have any funny stories about landing an agent, you can share those in the comments too. The more absurd the better! To quote the late Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Fighting the good fight just like you,
Alfonso

 

 

Stop Being Solitary: How Others Are The Key To Your Success As A Writer

“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” – Former U.S. President Barack Obama

I opened this post with President Obama’s quote because it can be applied perfectly to writers. From my position as publisher and co-founder of Beautiful Losers Magazine, I have seen that some of the best poets and short fiction writers are not in The New Yorker, Granta, or The Paris Review. Of course, that is not to say that the writers featured in those magazines are not exceptional talents because by and large they are, but only that many talented writers are never discovered by the readership of these magazines. In many cases, these writers are equals to their more established peers in creativity, knowledge of the nuances of craft, and work ethic. So why are some writers exalted and others remain in obscurity? Perhaps because no one gave them some help along the way.

Writing can be seen as a solitary profession, and to some extent it is, but there are many instances where receiving help can be the difference between success and anonymity. Here are a few ways in which others can help you along in your path as a writer:

1. Editing. Every writer needs an editor. My short fiction wouldn’t be nearly as good if my editors Rairigh Drum and Lauren Rubin didn’t examine every piece that I write and offer constructive suggestions towards improving them. The same holds true for my forthcoming book with Vakasha Brenman. Writers have a blindside when it comes to their own work. To gain an agent’s representation or get writing accepted in competitive literary magazines, working with an editor is mandatory.

2. Networking. Your manuscript may be well-written and edited to a publishable standard; however, that doesn’t mean that you will automatically be able to attract an agent’s interest and be on the fast track to a contract with a big publisher. If you are completely divorced from the network of writers, voracious readers, agents, and publishers, you are missing a golden opportunity to advance. Forming friendships with other writers, influential readers, or those involved in the business of literature can have immense benefits, not the least of which is putting your manuscript before a person in a decision-making position.

3. Inspiration. It happens to all of us, we start writing and hit a wall. Our mood drops, the ideas stop coming, and the frustration sets in. This is where friends, family, and romantic partners come in. The next time your writing hits a wall, get connected with others and watch how easy the words will come to you once you resume your writing.

What other benefits do you find from turning to others? Comment below to share your thoughts.

If you found this post helpful, please like, comment, repost, or subscribe to my blog—all are appreciated!