Saturday, April 30, 2005


Today I took day two of my three day Motorcycle Safety Course, and it was great. We putted around on our bikes, but it felt like we were doing something. The first class was on Friday at 6:30-9:30pm, but this mornings class started at 6:30am. It takes a good hour with traffic for me to roll to the class, so I have been operating on two hours sleep. And tomorrow, we meet again at 6:30am for four more hours of riding. But after that, I take a test and hopefully, I'll pass. And then it's on to riding for real...

I've looked at the first page of FWB and that's about it. I think I can do all of the changes in less than two days, and seeing that I'll be bushed tomorrow, it looks more and more like I'll really work on it all day on Monday and then finish on Tuesday. What sucks is that I'm trying to give up chocolate and get in shape. I love milk chocolate like others love coffee and cigarettes. So doing this is very, very, hard. With the copyedit, I would normally go to Magic Johnson's Starbucks, find a spot with a cord, buy an endless supply of chocolate frappicinos (sp?) and finish the edit while watching the peeps. But I can't go in there now because I just can't be near chocolate. I gotta get in shape for when FWB is published, because if you're going to brand yourself, you don't want people walking away thinking that the book was cool, but did you see that brothers physique. Double uncool. So no Coffee Bean (my favorite are the chocolate ice blendeds), Starbucks, or king sized snickers.

Thursday, April 28, 2005



For those of you who've wondered what I look like. This is a three year old photo because my locks are down my back now. I need to take a more current photo soon.

Friends With Benefits Cover

Friends With Benefits Cover

Here is the cover for Friends With Benefits. I just learned how to post photos to the blog, so bear with me.

re: the Final Final FWB Edit...

Got the manuscript this afternoon, and I think I will able to knock this boy out by Saturday.

Pitching...Part 2

So we have a meeting with Endemol. We're excited, we have a great show, and we are prepared to give it a go. We walk into the Endemol offices without a clue on pitching, but we know how to talk. So we sit down and start talking, and talking, and talking. We're explaining every little thing about the show. We're going over how people will play. How exciting it will all be. And it WILL be exciting. We think we do a good job. But no...

At the end of our pitch, the producer looks at us and says, "Nah". He tells us that paintball can't really work on television, he knew that about ten seconds into our pitch. But he does tell us that he has a new program that is going to be hot. This reality show has a camera following a beach bum around and lets the audience vote on what he does during the day. Both my frat brother and I look at each other, knowing that this new "hot" show is going to suck, but since this is Hollywood, we both are enthusiastic about the show. We were right. The show is so boring that it gets cancelled only after a few episodes. We could have told him that at our own pitch meeting, but then again, we wanted a sale.

At this point, we don't have a sale, but the producer does want us to come back with a more tight package. Okay we say, still encouraged. And so we go back to work. Part Three tomorrow...

Things I Don't Get...#2

Kobe's penchant for self destruction: One of the problems with having an extraordinary talent is that you tend to focus on that particular talent for so long, that you lose perspective, or even worse, never gain a perspective. Take Kobe Bryant for example. Here's a guy who is as talented on the court as could be, but because he's never developed any sense of perspective, he's become both self aware and self absorbed. And while I'm not psychologist, I imagine that his personality is now fully formed, and the Kobe you see in his twenties is going to be the Kobe you see in his eighties. But in that manner, he's not any different than his hero Michael Jordan, except that Michael Jordan had enough sense to mask his selfishness through surrogates and myth building. And as long as he didn't stray from the myth, no one bothered to look behind the curtain and see if there really was a wizard. For Kobe, he doesn't have that luxury anymore. The rape charge and the Lakers missing the playoffs, means that everyone knows that there's no wizard, and there never was. And as a Laker fanatic, that tarnishes the gold on the uniforms just a bit.

My Experience Pitching...Part I

About two years ago, my frat brother had a terrific idea for a reality/television show. It combined elements of paintball and a Mission Impossible caper. We called the whole thing, "Heist". After fleshing out the game play, we had a wonderfully detailed, amazingly interesting treatment. And lucky us, we knew someone who could get us a meeting with Endemol, the folks who do damn near every reality show on television. This was the start of our journey into the Kafkaeque world of pitching. More later...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

FWB Copy Edit...

For some reason, I forgot that I would get my Friends With Benefits manuscript back from the copy editor. My editor's assistant called and said I should look for the copy edited version manuscript tomorrow. I have to make all of the corrections by May 5. When you get your manuscript back from the copy editor, it's an ego buster, due to all of the red marks and little stickum's they'll put on it. It makes you think that you have no idea how the English language works. And sometimes, you don't.

Now, this really shouldn't be a problem, except I'd mentally finished with Friends, and now I have to get right back up for it. Plus, I have even less time because I'll be busy this weekend at a motorcycle class. But I'll toil on.

But one bit of good news. I was able to finally talk to the Books-A-Million rep. I'm going to send her my proposal this weekend.

Another bit of good news: I have my second Divine Nine lecture booking for the fall. I'm going back to Clemson University, where I lectured a couple of years ago. I've lectured at over two hundred schools, and Clemson is one of my favorites. Normally, schools want to take me out to dinner either before or after the lecture, and I decline. But the last time I was at Clemson, I'm glad I didn't. It was one of the best dinner, and they have their own cows, so you get some of the freshest dairy products. It may not seem like much, until you taste blue cheese that is out of this world. Plus, the people are really nice.

This year, I'm going to really limit my lectures due to school. I would normally block book (book a bunch of schools during the week), but now I'm pretty much going to limit it to one a week, and then be done. It's already going to be overwhelming, and I don't need to fall behind in school while traveling.

Where I'm At...

The Savoy article: Done yesterday. It came in at 1800 words, but the subject needed it. The article talks about the plight of black character actors in Hollywood, which is very relevant to me.

I go into UCLA with my eyes open and no illusions about where black writers fit in the scheme of Hollywood. For a HUGE percentage of the industry, we don't. But that's okay. When you're black and educated, you sort of get used to those odds as being normal. And besides, I have a plan.

On other fronts:

Project Z: Haven't paid attention to it because of other deadlines. I need to get it done and out of the way because I want to finish my other fiction manuscript (Project X) by the end of May.

Project Y: June to August is devoted to gathering all of the research material for my non-fiction book proposal on hip hop. Of all my projects, this is going to be the trickiest. If my agent can sell it, then I'm going to truly have a packed schedule next year. I'll go to school during the week, and then I'll be doing research, interviews, etc. for the book on the weekend. But I'm the type of person who NEEDS a constant sense of pressure and deadlines. I think that comes from working at a newspaper, where there's never a break in the deadline cycle. But it'll be interesting.

Friends With Benefits: My fraternity brother operates a marketing company and came up with a REALLY good promotion/sponsorship idea for Friends With Benefits. He wants to hold events, not just book signings, around the theme of my book. The book comes out in late August, early September and so I need to do this promotion at the very beginning of September. UCLA begins on September 26, so I'm going to be cutting it close. The idea, beyond selling many, many copies of FWB, is to get my name out into the public so that it is branded. I want my readers to pick up my books on GP.

Planning Ahead:
In the Summer 2006, I want to produce two shorts and one feature length movie: For the shorts, I want to shoot in Brazil (crime caper) and England (a documentary). For the feature (if I can get financing) I want to adapt my own Friends With Benefits. I'll be done with any book projects, and hopefully I'll have time. As I enter my last year at UCLA, I want to have a great portfolio.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Cool Brother...

A cool brother from the UCLA M.F.A program reached out to me. His name is M.K. Asante, and he is an award winning filmmaker and is also an author. I'm looking forward to meeting with him in May because his documentary 500 Years Later is similar to my second book, The Ways of Black Folks: A Year in the Life of a People. We are both interested in the African Diaspora, and it'll be nice to talk to someone who has had the same experiences.

As for the Savoy article, I'm damn near done. I put off writing it this weekend because I needed two more interviews. I got one, but the other is still a possibility. I'll write the first draft tonight, and then see if I get that last interview. If not, I have enough.

Five things I don't understand...

1. The popularity of Paris Hilton: Did I miss something? Did she do something noteworthy or meritworthy? Or is she famous for being famous? Every time I see her on television getting coverage, I think about all of the starving artists out there who are doing important work, and if just for a two minute segment on Entertainment Tonight, or The Insider, or Access Hollywood, could get that big break they've been looking for. Instead, we give that time to a talentless narcissist who will never add anything to this world except stupidity.

#2 Tomorrow...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Savoy Article Interviews Done...

I'm pretty much finished with my Savoy interviews. All of the subjects were great, and gave really good quotes. Usually during an assignment, you run into an ass who's only doing the interview because their publicist demands that they do it. But not this time. I got good quotes from different perspectives. I'll write the first draft tomorrow, and then see if I need additional interviews.

Haven't worked on Project X beyond add a couple of sentences. I may try to work a bit on it tonight.

Everything else is on the shelf. On Monday, I will call the Books-A-Million one last time. If I don't get a response, then I'm going to assume she's not interested. I have another strategy. I'm contacting Red Bull.

Right now, I'm setting up a September booksigning in Los Angeles at Eso Won. I've contacted the UCLA Black Alumni Association about co-sponsoring the signing with my fraternity chapter. That's a start.

Why Film School...

A friend of mine asked me why I wanted to go to UCLA film school. The simple answer is that I want to learn how to write screenplays, but that's not it. I think I could learn how to write competent screenplays by cobbling together some sort of extension class/workshop curriculum. But I have an eye toward something more.

When I was fifteen, I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and like a lot of African American youth, it affected me to the point that I knew I had to not only just make a living, but to make a mark for my community. And I want to do the same thing when it comes to film. I want to make what I like to term, quiet films. My idol is Mike Leigh, who makes films that delve deeply into the lives of characters. I want the freedom to do the same.

But I know there are obstacles. There are African American writers who are struggling to sell their scripts because Hollywood is not the most diverse place in the world. So while smart black films don't get made, Soul Plane does. Also, the African American audience is for the most part, not demanding films that I would consider to be quality, but instead are satisfied with whatever drivel given them. So there has to be a mindset change among the very community I'd like to appeal to.

I hope that after I graduate from UCLA, I will write scripts that turns this around. I want to be innovative, different (but not for the sake of being different) and produce work that is at the highest quality in the industry. If UCLA gives me the opportunity to gain these tools, then I will be able to make my mark.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What's Happening...

Right now, I'm doing interviews for the Savoy article, so I've only had a chance to dibble and dabble with Project X. I have four more interviews tomorrow, and I hope to finish them by Saturday. I'll write the article by Sunday, and then go back over it on Monday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Writer's Block...

Someone asked me in a private email about writers block and how to overcome it. I actually don't believe in it. Now there are times when I don't feel like writing on a project, and that's when I start working on another. But regardless, there are times when you need to really start grinding. Now, part of this you learn if you've ever worked at a newspaper and you have a Wednesday editorial pitch meeting. Sometimes you just don't have any ideas for stories. But since they are paying you to write, you better to come up with something. So you grind it out. Force yourself to sit in front of the computer for X amount of time, and even if you don't write a single word, you'll still be further along than those who complain about having writers block as an excuse to not get in front of that computer. Because I can guarantee that eventually, you'll start writing again, particularly if you've done a good job outlining your story. Writers write, regardless of obstacles.


I'm still waiting on the Books-A-Million rep to get back to me. I hope that it happens soon because I need to start get the wheels started on my Friends With Benefits promotion. To give you a vague idea of what the promotion is, I'm using the concept of a flash mob to sell my book. A flash mob is when a large group of people gather in one place suddenly and unexpectedly. Well I'm trying to do the same thing when it comes to people buying my book. I want them to gather in one place for about 24 hours, buy my book in the thousands, and do good at the same time. I think I've figured out how to do it, but putting the parts together is the task.

On another front, I have three schools who are trying to book me for Divine Nine lectures. I give students a lot of credit, because they will really work to find funding for programs they believe in. It just plays havoc with my travel schedule because they often have to wait until the last minute to find out if they can bring me.

Added about a thousand more words to Project X. The story is still flowing.

My agent Manie said that I'm due my backend check for Friends With Benefits in about two weeks, so that rocks. It ain't much, but it's cool.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Project B...

Project B for Savoy Magazine is due two days earlier than I initially thought, 4/27 versus 4/29. But no biggee, I'm almost done finding my subjects for the article, so I think I'll be done by this weekend.

Project X did reach 17,000 words by last night.

I called Books-A-Million this afternoon and left another message about my promotional project for Friends With Benefits.

Other than that, my six year old son pummelled me in X-Box Muhammed Ali boxing for the first time. I'm getting old.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

More progress...

Not too bad. Project X is still flowing, even though not to the 20,000 words I'd targeted. By the end of the night, it looks like I'll finish at around 17,500 words. Not bad.

Tomorrow, I'll contact Book-A-Million about a promotion I'm proposing for Friends With Benefits. If my proposal is accepted, then I will not only be able to promote my book, but also raise money for a very worthy cause. More later...

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Project X Progress...

Very, very nice progress on Project X. Moved the manuscript from 7500 words to 13,110 and the story is flowing. I mean really flowing. Again, this story is fiction, but it comes from an unsold non-fiction book proposal on the porn industry. There is nothing more frustrating than having an unsold book proposal, particularly since I hate writing them, but I didn't want the idea to die. Plus, I'd spent too much time interviewing porn stars, filmmakers, etc. to let these characters just pass along into the ether. I figured that I could tell a really good fiction story from the information I'd gathered, and it has really worked. I'm going to keep grinding and see if I can get to 20,000 words by the end of the weekend.

On the Friends With Benefits marketing front, one of my frat brothers runs a great marketing and events company, and it looks like we're going to work on creating some combo booksignings/cocktail gatherings centered on the relationship aspect of the book. It's a good idea because I want to take promotions of books beyond the whole, come to the bookstore, watch me read, answer some questions, and then get your book signed. That's boring for the author, boring for the readers, and really needs to be updated. Anything that breaks up that monotony makes me happy. We're going to target some sponsors for these events.

Friday, April 15, 2005

TiVo is back...

I'd contact the brilliant minds at DirectTV when my TiVo inexplicably went out, and they proceeded to mess up things so bad that I couldn't get a picture at all. I was not happy, especially since I then had to schedule some technician at $30 an hour to come out. But that was two days ago. I decided to reinstall everything prior to my DirectTV guy coming on Monday, and lo and behold, TiVo is back. I love my TiVo, and now I feel complete.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The African Diaspora...

I am very interested in the African Diaspora, particularly in the similarities and differences between the experiences of African Americans and black Britains (meaning those from the West Indies, and not the universal "black" which is used to include Asians and other minorities in the UK). So you will see me post links to writers from both sides of the pond who may illuminate our experiences. Check out the links to the right==========> for poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who eloquently turned down an Order of the British Empire honor, and Andrea Levy, a writer I'm meaning to read.

Also, we can add Project B, which is a freelance magazine article I have to complete in the next two weeks for Savoy magazine. It's 1500 words, which is not that bad, but I need to get my contacts and interviews done in the next few days. Other than that, it should be a snap.


I just got an email from UCLA. I've been accepted into the UCLA M.F.A program for screenwriting! I'm absolutely over the moon and can't actually believe it. Okay, I've got to go and calm down.

How I'm Going To Go About This...

Okay, with an online blog, it is sort of difficult to be very specific about future projects. Even stating the titles of my future books is difficult because I work very hard to come up with titles that will catch the potential reader's eye, while also explaining the subject matter. But I started this blog to give you some insight into the process, so I will try to be as open as possible.

Besides Friends With Benefits, I'm also working on a fiction manuscript we'll call Project X. Project X was developed from an unsold non-fiction book proposal about porn. Right now, I'm concentrating on writing this, with a goal of writing 3000 words per day. Again, for me it doesn't have to be a good 3000 words, I can fix that later, but it should move the manuscript forward.

The second project I'm working on is Project Y, which is a non-fiction book proposal on a hip hop music topic. I've been working on this for about three months, and I hope to have it done by the end of May.

The third project I'm working on is Project Z with my frat brother Andre, who is an NYU film student. We are working on two spec episodes for a television show we've developed and we hope to shop. He's responsible for the script, while I'm responible for the story. We've finished episode one, and now I need to finish the story for episode two. Project Z is set in a college atmosphere, and it has drawn a ton of interest. We've been working on this project for over a year, with fits and starts, but hopefully this will pan out.

The fourth project I'm working on is Project A. Project A is a script that I will use to get representation. On the literary front, I'm represented by Manie Barron of the MenzaBarron Agency. But on the film/television front, I'm still looking for representation. I have numerous contacts at William Morris (Manie used to be at William Morris) and ICM, but I want to make sure that my script is tiptop before I send it to them for evaluation. For Project A, I've been working with my friend, and my wife's best friend (another NYU film school grad). She is absolutely wonderful, and has spent great time chopping my script to pieces in an effort to help me understand how to make it better. She says Project A is good enough to sell, but I figure it'll take about ten drafts before it's ready to send out. I'm on the third draft right now.

And lastly, I'm working on the marketing for Friends With Benefits.

So you can see, I am a very busy man. But I have a few things to my advantage. One, I'm pretty organized. Two, I'm able to write all day. Three, I can multitask. But this is not to say it is easy. You'll see how hard it is as we go along.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


You never know how addicted you are to TiVo until it goes out. And ours is out until Saturday.

Setting my writing schedule...

Since I write fiction and non-fiction, usually at the same time, I have to have a writing schedule so I can stay focused. Right now, I've made a decision to work on my manuscript about the porn industry, and I'm in the middle of finishing my non-fiction book proposal. I try to write 2000-3000 words per day for my fiction project. Whatever I write initially doesn't have to be perfect, I can edit it many times later. But if I like to set that as a goal.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

About Getting Published...

Each month, over one thousand new books enter the market all looking for your
dollars. They are all struggling for attention and they all want you to be interested in
them. Some get bought simply because they are interesting. Others get bought because the reader recognizes the author. And the majority are bought because they were recommended by friends, co-workers, etc. But selling even a SINGLE book is a monumental task. Think about this…

You walk into your typical Barnes and Noble store, and you instantly have about 500,000 books to choose from. An author has to somehow get you to walk over to his/her section of the bookstore, have you look on their shelf, and then gain your attention. Maybe it's the title of the book that makes you pick up the book? Maybe it's the blurbs on the back? Maybe the topic is what you are interested in? Either way, you have to get that potential reader (and buyer) to pick your book up, take it to the counter, and then buy it. All the while, you're competing against other books that are JUST LIKE YOUR BOOK. But let's say the reader does buy your book. You hope that the reader likes your book so much that they'll tell others. But remember, it is 50-50 that a reader could also HATE your book, thereby telling everyone to NOT buy
your book. Selling books is VERY difficult to do, which is why most books don't actually sell large numbers. Most authors only sell a few hundred books, or perhaps a few thousand books, if they're lucky.

I start off on a pessimistic note because anyone thinking about becoming an author
should know the odds at every stage of the process to getting published in the first
place. Rejection is all part of the deal of being an author. But let's go over the process now…

In order to get published, you typically need the following: a literary agent and then a
publishing house. To get an agent, you need to purchase the 2004 Writers Market and find an agent that matches what you have written or want to write. You need to send the agent a query letter, and that's better explained within the Writers Market book. Follow their instructions and you should be okay.

If you are writing fiction, your manuscript needs to be complete. If you are writing
non-fiction, then you need to write a book proposal.

After you send out your query letters to agents, expect a 95% rejection rate from
agents. Now, you can get rejected for a number of reasons. The agent may not think
you have enough writing experience, or they don't like your writing style, or perhaps
your material doesn't match what they are looking for. But let's assume you get
picked up by an agent…

The agent will look over your manuscript/book proposal and give you tons of suggestions. How well you listen to their suggestions will determine whether your manuscript/proposal sells. Once you get the manuscript/book proposal finished to your agent's specs, s/he will then begin shopping it to publishing houses. Your agent will have a list of editors that they feel your material will fit with, and then they will go about pitching your project (and their other clients) to those editors. The editors will read your manuscript, talk with others in the house, including folks in marketing, other editors, their sales force, etc., and then make a decision on whether to buy or pass on your manuscript/book proposal.

Rejection Rate for publishing houses: 95%

If they decide to buy your manuscript and you are a first time author, they will more
than like pay you a tiny advance on your royalties (from around $1000 to around
$10,000) and then you will either wait for editorial notes if you wrote a fiction
manuscript, or you will get started writing your book if you are writing a non-fiction

Now, there is another option. You can decide to self-publish your book and take out the agent and the publishing house, and increase your odds of getting published to 100%. And within the African American community, self-publishing has been successful for a number of authors. E. Lynn Harris, among others, started as a self-published author. But there are HUGE obstacles for self-published authors. One, you put out your own money to produce your book. Two, you compete against tons of publishing houses for bookshelf space. Three, you are limited in terms of distribution. Four, some readers have a prejudice against self published authors, thinking that if a publishing house didn't buy the manuscript, why should they buy the book? Not saying that's fair, but it is out there. I'm not self-published, so I can't recommend or not recommend self-publishing, but even if you go the self published route, more than likely you'll end up at a publishing house with an agent if you are successful. But one of the good things about self-publishing is that black editors DO look for successful self-published books and will buy them.

At any rate, you can see that getting published is a SLIM ODDS proposition. Only around 5% get through to get their books published, and even then, thousands of new books go on the bookshelf each month. But if you can stare those odds in the eye and think you'll be the author to sell hundreds of thousands of books, then you are ready to be an author.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Okay, I've finally finished the final edit. I've sent it to my editor as an attachment, and now I'm about to FedEx a hardcopy to her. After they get it, the copyeditor will go over it and then send it back to me for corrections. After I finish those corrections, the manuscript will go to galleys and then to print.

I'm always nervous at this point because I always have a feeling that I missed something. Maybe I could have added a scene, more dialogue, or something to make the story better. But you have to have faith that you did your best. And I think Friends With Benefits is a really good book.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Final, Final Edit...

It's after midnight, some lame movie is on the television, and I'm full of Mountain Dew and a $12 Reuben sandwich from room service. In other words, it's the perfect time to go back over Friends With Benefits with a fine tooth comb. Right now, I'm 1/8 through the manuscript and I have to say that I really like it. It flows well, the story is good, and I don't see any holes. At first I was going to add a scene, but I'm going to hold off for right now. I have to get it to my editor on Monday, so if I'm going to write that scene, it better work because I won't have a chance to delete it. So I hope to keep re-reading Friends until 2am, and then start back up tomorrow morning.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Gmail Accounts...Who Wants One?


I have fifty gmail account invites (Google's email system with 2gigs of storage). If you want one, send me an email ( Thanks!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Too Tired To Write...

I wanted to go through Friends With Benefits one more time, but I'm tired. I did three workshops today, one more than I thought I was going to do, which was a bit draining. But the students were great. It's 9:30 right now, so I'm probably going to take a quick nap, and then look at the manuscript. For some reason, I should be able to write in a hotel room, but I sometimes find it a struggle. Too easy to just lay on the bed and go to sleep.

What Today Holds...

Today, I'm in Burlingame, Ca. doing workshops at the Western Regional Greek Leadership Conference. After my responsibilities, I'm going to try to get back to my hotel room and finish up the last bit of editing for Friends With Benefits. I need to make sure my tenses are correct throughout the manuscript, which for some reason, has been a bugaboo with me in Friends. But no biggie. I hope to make sure everything is tight, formatted correctly, and ready to go, by tonight. I'm eager to continue writing on three other manuscripts. I still haven't chose which one to concentrate on, but I need to finish one by this summer.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

My Top Ten Shows on Television...

  1. 24: Simply the best television show, week to week, I've ever watched.
  2. Scrubs: Underrated and underappreciated.
  3. America's Next Top Model: The wife suckered me into watching it, and now I see how hard it is for pretty people to pucker up and look sexy. I'm rooting for the ghetto-fab Tiffany.
  4. The Apprentice: I never get tired of watching so-called business people self destruct over the most simple tasks.
  5. American Idol: I agree with this week's elimination because Nikko Kanto Singo.
  6. Premiership Football on Fox: I hate Rupert Murdoch for Fox News, but much love to him on Fox Sports World/Fox Soccer Channel. Now I get to watch my beloved Manchester United (and every other game) each week without much effort.
  7. The 90 or so Law & Orders running each day: The husband did it. Believe that.
  8. Build or Bust: The first purchase I make after selling a script will be a Bulldozer motorcycle from Exile Cycles.
  9. Project Greenlight: Watching new writers and directors go through the agony of getting a film done makes great television. Particularly this season.
  10. Two Wheel Tuesday: Great hour of motorcycle news.

My Sales Goals for Friends With Benefits...

Fiction outsells non-fiction by a lot and I'm looking forward to seeing how well my Friends With Benefits will sell. I think I tell a sexy, enjoyable story with rich characters that should appeal to a great many readers, the majority of whom will be African American, and some outside of that demographics. So what are my goals?

In general, if you're able to sell 25,000 copies of your book, your publisher will smile happily and consider your book to be a success. If you are one of the tiny minority that sell beyond 100,000 copies, then you should be able to figure that your agent won't have a problem selling your next two or three manuscripts.

I want to figure out a way to sell 25,000 books in a single day while selling 100,000 books total. In order to do this, I need to put together a promotion that immediately gets Friends With Benefits into the national consciousness, supported by non-traditional advertising, and mad publicity.

To do this, I'm going to combine sponsorships with an innovative idea for a promotion. I can't really say what it is right now because all of the "i"'s are not dotted, but it will be an experiment in turning bookselling from a pretty passive entity into one that forces the reader into the bookstore. Right now, the only book that has accomplished this is the Harry Potter series, with their midnight openings, the branding of the author (I'll talk about that later) and the publicity derived from high sales figures.

I want to move my books from the six week sink or swim, to a promotion more akin to what happens in music, where we know the weekly sales figures for top albums, and that begets more sales. My plan may not work, but it's worth a try.

Finished Edit for Friends With Benefits...

Okay, I finished going through the final edit for Friends With Benefits, and I'm feeling pretty good about myself. I fly up to Burlingame to do workshops at the Western Region Greek Conference, so I'll go back through the manuscript in between my work at the conference. Now I have a chance to take a look at other manuscripts I've been working on, but haven't seen in over a month. It'll be like reading something new!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

My Lakers Officially Suck...

Now out of the playoffs, can I vent a bit about my Lakers? I've followed the Lakers since I was four years old, when I had a Tommy Hawkins, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor poster hanging over my crib. But Jerry Buss' decision to get rid of Shaq and Phil (if we are to believe his words that Kobe had nothing to do with it!) goes down as one of the most stupid moves ever. But of course, old Jerry Buss will leave this summer for Italy, sipping wine like always, while other owners are wheeling and dealing. Thanks Jerry for taking a championship team and turning them into the Clippers (a team I refuse to believe actually plays in Los Angeles). Sorry, just had to vent!

In Praise of Sponsorships...

I'm a huge fan of sponsorships and product placements. I have absolutely no idea whether other authors like them, but I know that I try to use them as much as possible. They are invaluable to me.

When most writers, particularly unpublished writers, think about their books being published, they instantly think about having a booksigning tour, television appearances, and maybe even being selected by Oprah. In this fantasy world, their book is on the tongue of every reader and the royalty payments never stop. That's not reality.

Most publishers give their books about six weeks worth of attention (if you're lucky) before they move on to their other releases. They MIGHT schedule some telephone interviews for you. They might support a few booksignings. But I think of that as being extras. For me, the most important thing a publisher can do is make sure my book is in the bookstores, which is not a given. Publicity, promotion, without access to the book is like lighting a candle in the wind. It is absolutely useless.

It is VERY difficult to sell ONE book. It is extremely difficult to sell ONE THOUSAND books. It is INCREDIBLY HARD to sell ten thousand books. It is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to sell over one hundred thousand books. But despite this, it CAN be done. But you have to have a plan. For me, I use sponsorships, and I've seen what can happen when you use sponsorships and when you don't.

For my first book, The Divine Nine, I had a built in audience of black fraternity and sorority members, who were the most likely candidates to purchase. But if I'd relied on simply appealing to this group, The Divine Nine would have sunk within six months. So I wrote a proposal to Lifestyle condoms about funding a tour of historically black colleges and universities, while also talking about safe sex to black college students. That tour helped get my book into the consciousness of the readers I wanted to reach and broadened my sales.

However, with The Ways of Black Folks, I didn't have a sponsor and its sales reflected it. It was critically praised, but it hadn't been put into the consciousness of potential readers, so it sits unread by most of the people I think who would be interested in it. You can write a really good book that no one reads, and unfortunately, that's the fate of most books published.

For Friends With Benefits, I decided to not make the same mistake. One, I secured a sponsorship/product placement deal with American Suzuki, because my character rides a motorcycle and Suzuki would like to reach the burgeoning African American motorcycle riding community. It's a perfect match, and I look forward to helping Suzuki make headways. As I continue to write in this journal, I'll go over my strategy for adding sponsors, hopefully enabling me to use their resources to promote my book.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Book Industry...

As a writer, I have the belief that writing is divided into two different and distinct areas: the art and craft of writing and the commerce. I'm not a writer who decries the fact that my book has to compete against other books to get attention. Also, I'm not a writer who bemoans how the politics about which books are supported by their publisher and which books are left to sink or swim can determine your ultimate success.

My philosophy is that when you are writing your book, you should concentrate on writing the best book possible. But when you are done, you should think of every damn thing you can to get your book in the public's eye as possible. Assume your publisher is not going to do jack to publicize your book, and you need to depend only on your efforts. So if you need to wear a red nose at booksignings to get people to buy your book, then wear a red nose. As long as it doesn't compromise you as a person, you need to market your book as much as possible.

In that vein, as I finish my final edit, I will now turn to how I will get Friends With Benefits into the hands of 100,000 happy paying readers, when most books sell 5000 books if they're lucky. It's going to take some ingenuity, gimmicks, and luck to do it, but hell, you're lucky to get published in the first place, so why not shoot for the moon?

Friends With Benefits Final Edit: Due April 11

I'm sitting here looking at the 69,876 word in an 82,753 manuscript, and I have six days to make sure that each word in this manuscript is perfect. I have to double check that names are consistent within the story, that there are transitions where there should be transitions, and that the story makes logical sense. I'm doing all of this while trying to stay within the parameters set forth by my editor, who has meticulously gone through my manuscript, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and completely blasted anything she felt was wrong or awful. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm in the midst of final edit.

Writing fiction is a bit different for me than writing non-fiction. For one, my two non-fiction books were 150,000 words and 125,000 words respectively. That's a LOT of time writing, but I like doing it because it means a lot of consolidating research and interviews into coherent pages. That's fun for me. Fiction is different in that for the most part, it is a shorter form. For the type of fiction I'm writing, 90,000 words is plenty. Oh, by the way, I think in terms of words when I talk about size of manuscripts. You could tell me that your manuscript is 300 pages on MS Word, and I wouldn't have an idea about how large your manuscript truly was. But tell me it is 78,876 words, and I'll know you probably have a 250 page book on your hands. It comes from working in both magazines and newspapers (where some writers think in column inches, but that's another story) where you tend to get paid by the word, or editors assign stories by the word.

"Go to the opening of the Culver City Home Depot and write me a 500 word on its impact on traffic in the area."

See? Okay, that's done. Now let me explain a little bit about the process of publishing. When your agent turns in your manuscript to an editor, you wait. When an editor decides to buy your manuscript, you wait. When the editor finishes reading your manuscript, you wait. When you finish with the final draft, you wait. You wait a lot in this industry, and you have to get used to it, or you won't be able to survive.

On that note, my wonderful editor Karen Thomas of Kensington Books, told me that I would receive my editorial notes for Friends With Benefits in September 2004. I got them March 2005. Now this is not because Karen was slacking, the sister was simply swamped with manuscripts that are all on a publishing schedule. My manuscript was simply low on the totem pole since it's not scheduled for publication until September 2005. So I waited.

Now, what are editorial notes? Editorial notes are notes your editor sends you, telling you how crappy this line, this paragraph, and this storyline is, all the while as she tries to keep your ego intact by saying you really are a good writer. Here are some of the comments from my editors notes for Friends With Benefits: corny, don't get the joke, check your tenses!, unrealistic, man him up, too much crying, stop with the first person!, etc. After reading all of this, it is my job to fix the problems in the manuscript (in thirty-seven days!), so that the manuscript can make it to bound galleys in time. It is a LOT of pressure.

The first week I received my editors notes, I just stared at my manuscript. I actually hadn't read it in about six months, so I had to re-read my own story to familiarize myself with what I'd wrote. When you do that, you see errors that are glaring. But strangely, instead of depressing you, the errors and the editors notes provide motivation to get the manuscript right. So for the past thirty days, I've been working diligently on fixing things that were wrong, and adding things that are right. It's a necessary, but anal process, but what results is a more polished book on your local shelves, and a more satisfied reader in the end.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Welcome...This is who I am...

When you start a blog, there's really no true day one. You just start wherever you happen to be at the time. So as I start this blog, I'll try to give you some backstory. I'll give more as we go along.

My name is Lawrence C. Ross, Jr. I'm 39 years old, live in Inglewood, California with my wife and son.

I've been a paid and published writer for ten years. It all began when I started writing a free column for the National Newspapers Publisher Association (NNPA), a consortium of black newspapers. Basically, you write a column and then they distribute it to an assortment of newspapers. No pay, but you get published. Very, very important.

Next, I lucked up and got a job as a managing editor of a small hip hop magazine. Three thousand to five thousand word feature articles, and a year and a half of of drama capped that experience. But it was still valuable experience. It let me know that I wanted to write full time.

From there, it was two years at the Los Angeles Independent Newspapers. The LA Indy was a small operation that tried to tackle community stories the LA Times ignored. I covered everything from gay pride parades to city council meetings. Nothing was too small, and it was the absolute best place to learn how to write, and write under a deadline.

And it was then on to books: In 1997, I started writing a book called The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. It was published in 2000, became a Los Angeles Times bestseller, a multiple Essence magazine bestseller (the bestsellers list for black books) and a few lists I can't remember. In other words, it's done really well. As a result, I travel the country, lecturing at colleges and universities about black fraternities and sororities.

My second book, The Ways of Black Folks: A Year in the Life of a People was published in 2003. It was named a National Association of Black Journalists must read for Fall 2004. I spent eighteen months traveling through the US, Europe, Africa, South America, and Canada, profiling members of Congress, porn stars, and murder victims. Interesting to say the least.

Right now, I'm finishing my third book and my first fiction novel. It's called Friends With Benefits, and it is scheduled to be published in September 2005. I'll talk about that in later posts.

And today, I had an interview with U.C.L.A. film school about being admitted to the MFA program. I want to learn how to write screenplays because I have a lot of stories to tell on film. And not one of them replicates "Soul Plane".

That's about it. I invite you to come on my journey. I don't know where we're going, but it should be fun. I'm going to post everyday. So don't miss a thing.