Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Letter to My Mother

Two Christmas’s ago, we almost lost my mother to liver failure.  She endured many battles with her demons for quite some time and sadly, those demons won the final war.  If you saw my mom around this time two years ago, you wouldn’t have even recognized her.  She resembled more of a zombie, often incoherent, mumbling, shaking and at times, bedridden.

On Christmas Day, when I returned home from spending time with her at her house, I knew in my heart she was going to die within the next month.  She had been on the waiting list for a liver transplant for a year and this is the same amount of time the doctor gave her to live unless she received this incredible organ from an organ donor.

On December 26th, 2012, the very next day after that dismally bleak Christmas, God bestowed His Christmas miracle onto my mother.  She received a phone call from Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, New Jersey and was given the life-saving transplant she needed in order to continue her legacy here, with us.

Today, I am going to share a letter to my mother as part of my “no materialistic gifts for Christmas” by affording others with honor.  In doing so, we lift people up with our words instead of our wallet.  As writers, words are our strength so we should use them in accordance with the passion of our creativity and hearts.

I hope this can inspire you to write a letter to a loved one or friend expressing how much their presence means to you.  Fellow blogger, Joy Ezeka, also contributed to my inspiration with her "A Letter to My Son."

Dear mother,

With the rolling of tides and their eroding memories, yours radiates from my meandering mind.  I tend to stumble around my head from time to time and even though these images are often different, one thing remains the same; you have always lifted me up to the highest of heights toward the brightest of stars.

In doing so, you have managed to make me feel like those stars I have reached for in the sky.  You pushed me to be the best I could be while conquering all of my ventures with love, grace and compassion.  You taught me to admire and show love toward others, no matter the race, color, or creed.  You encouraged me to befriend the underdogs and protect my family and friends.  You have always had my back and never let anyone or anything hurt me by taking away the light you helped generate from within.

I’ve had many ups and downs with father figures, especially when Daddy C passed away.  But one thing has been a constant; you never allowed those ups and downs bring ME DOWN.  Instead, you became both my patron and best friend; the one person I could always count on to be at my graduations, birthdays, and other milestones.  It didn’t matter if neither of my fathers were in the crowd.  As long as I saw your brilliantly beautiful and charismatic face cheering me on, my contentment was more than fulfilled.

Mom, you are one of the kindest and most giving people I have been blessed to have in my life.  And to have you as my mother has been the greatest gift God has given me.  We might not have had a lot of money growing up but you managed to make my life as comfortable and warm as can be.  You worked several jobs to keep our family afloat and I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of your self-sacrifices and dedication.

You have an amazing soul and it emanates through all of the wonderful things you do for our family.  I believe God saved you because he had a different path planned for you other than the one you were previously struggling to find.  You may have made mistakes in the past but you refuse to let them define you and the beautiful person you are today.

I love you mom.  Merry Christmas.




I hope you all have an amazing holiday filled with joy, laughter, gratitude and love.  Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2014

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Last week, I talked about pushing the sales of our books.  Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, LinkedIn, word of mouth, hiring a PR firm, or the countless other ways to generate interest, what has worked the best for me has been word of mouth and the PR firm.  As long as you have a good product represented by some fantastic reviews, word of mouth seems to keep our sales afloat.

Today, I am going to dive deeper into Twitter.  I had no idea what Twitter even meant until I attended a publishing seminar led by bestselling author and pitch leaders, David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut.  They are both married, to each other, and taught me more in one seminar than I would have learned on my own researching for months.
I also bought their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published:  How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It... Successfully.  I like to think of this book as my "publishing bible."  Whether you are going to self-publish or pursue the traditional route, this reference will lead your passion to a better suited destination.  I highly recommend reading it.

During the seminar, Twitter was brought up because of its power and substance not only within the world wide web, but also within its ability to connect people with one another.  For example, without Twitter, I would NEVER have met one of my “author besties,” K Sentek.  She is a fellow children’s book author who I decided to follow because at the time, she was following one of my favorite children’s authors, Karma Wilson.  Without Twitter, I would never have met her or some of my other author friends who have bought my book, provided reviews and have showed incredible support.

Twitter also has the potential to help spread word about our books.  But how often do you tweet about your book?  Once a day?  Once every hour?  Once every 30 minutes?

I have yet to sign up for an automated Twitter service which allows me to have more free time for myself instead of going through all of my Twitter notifications, one by one, or copying and pasting my tweets while trying to tweet at least once every hour or so.  I know some authors like the automated services so their tweets go out as they schedule them.  They can also schedule retweets for other authors and writers who retweet for them. 

But do all of these tweets really help the sales of our books?  Yesterday, I had 25 people (mostly authors) retweet a link I shared for my children’s book.  Normally, I average anywhere from 5 to 30 retweets, depending on how often I have retweeted for them.  Even after 25 people retweeted my link and shared it with their followers, not one book!  Not one sale. 

So what am I doing wrong?  I like to think my phrases engender interest and are enticing to my followers and fellow retweeters' fan base.  I always say something captivating or endearing while trying to reach the types of readers who will purchase books that rhyme and have powerful messages, beautiful illustrations, and memorable storylines. 
One way I have found helpful was to reach out to my target audience.  Since my children’s book centers around outdoor play and imagination, I rummage through Twitter land, trying to stumble upon the hidden treasures who are advocates for nature and the great outdoors.  Although this can be quite time consuming,  it has proved to place my children’s book into the hearts and hands of this group.  Again, finding these people can be a pain, especially since a lot of them hardly check there notifications as much as we do.
I like to believe there are still children and adults who value outdoor play and imagination rather than having their minds constantly stimulated by technology or video games.  My school author visits always provoke an appreciation for imagination and outdoor play which is why I will continue to use word of mouth and recommendations to help my business grow.
So what works with Twitter?  What doesn’t?  Have you established new friendships with other authors or writers through Twitter?  How often do you tweet?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pushing Sales For Our Books

Between all of the hustle and bustle of this time of year, my mind is like sea foam fumbling for the next wave of thoughts to come.  The only time I can concentrate is in the wee hours of the morning when the world is still sleeping and I am at my computer desk typing away.
But this season has been terribly difficult for me to juggle all of the tasks bouncing in and out of my head.  My boss has taken three long trips within the last two months, leaving me drowning in overtime.  The waves just keep coming and my arms and legs are growing weary of staying afloat.   


With that being said, it is Christmas time, and like many of my fellow authors, we have products to move.  And I don’t mean placing them on the kitchen countertop and then moving them over to the dining room table.  I’m talking about moving them from websites like Amazon and and placing them into the homes of our consumers.  Or, if you strike gold, physical stores like Barnes and Noble and the thousands of independent bookstores across the country will stock your book resulting in the banking of sales.

Besides Twitter and my school author visits, I have become lazy.  I know!  Shocker.  But please, bare with me.  For the past two years, I have been putting myself out there, traveling to different independent bookstores in hopes they would stock my self-published children’s book.  Three bookstores were successful in purchasing my book and then slowly, I dismissed these ventures.  I’ve also been networking with teachers and principals so I can either set up school author visits or volunteer to work with kids who need guidance with their reading and writing.

This is one of my books signings at The Book Garden.  My children's book is in the background=)
Twitter, SheWrites and Google Plus has been a fantastic way to meet new people and establish relationships which I never would have stumbled upon before.  Thanks to social media, I have built a support system which I am grateful for every single day.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of my author friends outside of social media during book signings and fairs.  We’ve even stayed in touch and do things outside of book stuff.   

So it is extremely important to build a foundation for our work, even if that doesn’t just mean sales. We offer one another advice through our blogs and emails as well as give each other honest reviews for our work.  This is very important, especially within this industry and its boundless sea of heartaches, triumphs, and endless hunger to feed our passion.

Now that the relationships are established, how do we make sales?  Our fellow authors and family are usually on the front line to buy our books while showing the support we need to survive in this game.  But do social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google Plus help boost our sales?

In my experience, not so much.  The only means of advertising which has worked for me, so far, have been hiring a PR company to generate reviews for my children’s book , working with various parenting blogs who have thousands and thousands of followers, and my age old favorite, word of mouth. 

I was a bit hesitant before I decided to hire a PR company.  I had already spent over 3,000 dollars in publishing, illustration and website fees while managing to dump another 300 bucks into Facebook for advertisements which only gave me two sales.  Yep, I said it, two sales!  So I spent $300 and made enough money to buy two packs of Trident watermelon gum.
By the way, I wouldn't recommend advertising on Facebook to ANYONE.  I don't care if you are Oprah and you want to advertise there.  I say this because they were charging my credit card while I wasn't using their services.  We had a dispute which ended up in them refunding the money but trust me, it's not worth it!

So when the PR company was going to charge me another 200 bucks, the sweat started unfolding from my palms and onto the keyboard where I was about to click on the payment button.  Thankfully, I was receiving texts from an author friend of mine who hired the same company and revealed they did a pretty damn good job for her.  She even found a better publishing company from someone who reviewed her book and then referred her to someone in the hierarchy of publishing.

Although I didn’t receive thousands of sales from the PR, I was given honest reviews for my children’s book and referrals to various schools, a radio talk show host and various parenting blogs.  The feedback was TREMENDOUS.  My book was posted on over 40 blogs and I also had three schools reach out to me for author visits. 

Having my book posted on parenting sights which attract a huge amount of parents and teachers is detrimental to the existence of my book in the world wide web.  Without these parenting blogs, no one would know about my children’s book and I would have never received the sales I achieved through their support of my children’s story.

And then there is word of mouth.  This has probably been the bread winner when it has come to selling copies of my children’s book.  From family to friends to teachers to bank tellers to Shoprite cashiers to bookstore owners to people who attend my gym… you name them, I have revealed my work to them.  And by no means do I bombard people with the fact I am an author.  If I tend to see someone more than once and have established a cordial and casual relationship, you are damn skippy I will tell them about my book. 

We have to look at this industry not only as a comfort zone and support system but also as a vitality for selling our books.  If no one knows about them, how will they ever be sold?  And if no one buys them, how will they ever get into the hands, hearts and imaginations of our readers?

We have to keep pushing and throw ourselves out there.  If we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for us.

What about you?  What has been the best means of selling you books?  What about the worst?  What do you enjoy most about this industry so far?  If you haven’t written a book, will you be self-publishing or going the traditional route?

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Act of Awarding Others With Honor

I watched Joel Osteen's ministry yesterday on television.  If you are unfamiliar with his work, he is a pastor for the largest U.S. congregation at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.  He is also a bestselling author. 

Joel mostly speaks about the work we do as humans for God and each other.  If you haven't had the chance to listen to him, I highly recommend you do.  Even if you are not religious, his ministries are inspiring.  

I was so touched by yesterday's service I couldn't help but to share it with you.  Joel talked about a simple, yet, complex word.... honor. 

Honor.  One word holding a spectrum of colorful waves in the decadence of its simplicity and meaning.  People who give honor are quite humble as they bestow this gift onto others.  To give honor is to be honorable. 

When we bequeath honor upon others, God enables all of the glory of our dreams and passions to come to full circle.  By giving away honor, He rewards us with success, love and the freedom of our dreams coming true to only grow bigger. 

It's easy to give away honor.  You can call your mom and tell her how proud you are of the woman she has become and caregiver she has been all of these years.  If you have a coworker who has done a good job at the office or is always on time, you can tell him/her how much you admire their dedication.  The next time you go to the grocery store, look for your favorite cashier and get in their line.  Tell them how nice they are and how much they make your shopping more enjoyable.

By making others feel good about themselves, we are acting in God's light.  We are showing Him how we honor His existence by loving our friends, neighbors and family members.  He delights in our work for Him and rewards us immensely for doing so.

Raise your family members and spouses up.  Tell them how much you appreciate and love them.  Express a wave of compliments and be stingy with your complaints.  I know how hard it is to deal with certain members of the family.  Just the other day, during our Thanksgiving celebration, I was telling my mom how much I disliked one of our family members.  He's not in our close unit but I see him enough to sum up my own regards toward him.  He can be quite moody and mean, often taking his ailments out on others.

After I watched Joel Osteen's ministry yesterday, my heart grew heavy with guilt.  Even though I may dislike this person, I should not put negative energy out there, especially when it comes to my own family.  Instead, I should honor each and everyone of them by saying something kind, as hard as this may be at times.  To be honorable is to give honor.  And when we award others with honor, the sky is the limit as God takes delight in His children's work.

I already believe God is rewarding me.  My children's book is still on Amazon's top 100 Kindle books for Children's Fiction and Imagination.  It might not be a bestseller and who knows, it may never sail to its final destination.  But for my book to be able to sail into the hearts of some unknown shores, I am pleased with God's favors. 

Be kind my dear friends, family and fellow authors.  It's free to give honor away.  The incredible feelings and accolades your life surmounts to will be astounding. 

Have you ever listened to Joel Osteen or read one of his books?  What are your thoughts about giving honor to someone else?