Sunday, June 9, 2013

How Authors Build Brand

Using social media post updating, blog posts, news releases and social commenting gives my writing online exposure. 

Sunny Nash's First Newspaper Column "Yesterdays" Knight-Ridder Bryan-College Station Eagle
Sunny Nash's First Newspaper Column
"Yesterdays" Knight-Ridder
Bryan-College Station Eagle
My syndicated newspaper columns in Knight-Ridder and Hearst newspapers gave birth to my book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s. My first column, Yesterdays, led to an offer from Hearst's Houston Chronicle to contribute on a regular basis to the column, State Lines, in the Sunday edition, Texas Magazine

Before the online viewer read my content, the newspaper reader read my stories.

In the 1990s, in Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspapersI wrote stories about my childhood with Bigmama, my part-Comanche grandmother, my parents, relatives, friends, teachers and the impact of Jim Crow laws on our housing, ability to get jobs, education, entertainment, health care and civil rights. By writing about my life in my newspaper columns, I began to build brand, which has led to my career as a content writer on online subjects that I choose.

Civil rights were real issues in the daily lives of African Americans, but the denial of these civil liberties did not prevent us from building strong values, work ethics and educational goals. Any degree of happiness within our black families and communities was and remains a difficult concept for some modern readers to understand.  But there was happiness and those are the stories that launched my career as a professional writer and published author.

I began to build band by writing about the fears, hopes and dreams of my family. 

Rosa Parks Booking Photo Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks Booking Photo
In my newspaper content writing, I expanded my personal account of events surrounding my childhood to include the civil rights issues that affected my family, such as the 1954 Brown v the Board of Education, 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King; 1960 Woolworth Sit-ins; 1961 Freedom Riders; and countless other known and unknown activities across the nation. My little stories became a window into which many American mainstream readers could observe civil rights issues from slavery, through Jim Crow and black codes, the Civil Rights Movement, school desegregation, busing and the development of race relations in America.

Readers responded in letters and let me know they regarded my content as valuable to their understanding of race relations in America. 

With each article I wrote and published, I built brand.

With reader interest growing, media exposure and fan mail mounting from national distribution, a managing editor at Texas A&M University Press, Mary Lenn Dixon, approached me about creating a manuscript of selected articles for review and publication into a book. What a break! Of course, I agreed. The book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, was born and so was my career as a published author and now a content writer producing blog posts on my favorite online subjects. 

Sunny Nash  Book Signing & Sam Washington
& Sam Washington
Photo: Carolyn Smith Watts
Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s was selected as a resource for understanding U.S. race relations by the Association of American University Presses. As a result, some authorities consider me a leading author on race relations, quoting me in articles and reference books, and including my work in anthologies. All of these honors count when it comes to a book promotion, which should include appearances to speak and sign books as well as social media post updating.

Build brand with post updating and blog posts on your favorite online subjects.

Today, instead of writing a column, I am an author and a blogger. Print newspapers and other printed periodicals are rare these days, due to the Internet customer viewing content online. Many of my favorite hangouts, bookstores, are out of business. I do miss the old days. But not so much that I let the romantic memory of them keep me in the dark ages.

Growing professionally means changing with the times. And the times, they are a-changing! It did not take me long to realize that  blog posts could serve the same purpose as a newspaper column when it comes to collecting and organizing your writing. In fact, there are online publishers that can convert your blog posts and into a book or eBook.

With an Internet connection, you can place your talent and skills along side others for little or no money. There is online competition, I admit. Online competitors vie for online customer dollars. Remember, the best online marketing strategies MUST include engaging writing for the human reader as well as the search engines. No amount of sophisticated technology can replace strong writing skills. And poor writing cannot be hidden behind behind a wall of special effects and production music.

The written word in the form of a film script is still the secret to the hit movie. Like a hit movie, your advertising text needs to have a good story line to fill theater seats. Authors can learn a few tricks from successful movies using YouTube video ads to market big movies. Go to Youtube and find a movie trailer for any new cinema release. Movie trailers, playing now as a YouTube video ad, are produced especially for the Internet. Publishers and authors are doing the same thing. I am even trying my hand at this online marketing device. 

To build brand using a YouTube video link to your book trailer would be to use still images, a voice over, background music and video. This method may take some professional assistance. However, the impact may be greater if executed properly.

Bigmama Didn't Shop  at Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
at Woolworth's
Photograph your book cover
Import high-quality images of the book cover
Record voice over
Find free background music
Edit elements together
Upload to YouTube

If you are still hesitant about producing a video and creating a YouTube channel, there are books, courses and study guides to teach you video production techniques. These educational resources also teach you how to make the best use of your equipment when shooting your video. Editing and rendering in the proper format for your YouTube channel are also covered.

Another aspect of a book promotion is through your YouTube channel, where, on the dashboard, there is a share button allowing you to share a YouTube video link with your social media followers. When you share your YouTube video link on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media, ask your social media followers to share the YouTube video link of your book trailer with their connections.

Build brand using your YouTube channel featuring your book trailer.

If you don't have a YouTube channel, start previewing videos others are producing to build brand and then sign up for a YouTube account. You already know how to construct and tell stories. Turn those stories into online content. The best way to start producing book trailers and other YouTube video ads for a book promotion is to get started. You can do it. Remember, YouTube is a social media community connected to other social media networks. Go ahead. Get them talking about your book. Below is one of my book trailers.

Custom Search civil rights history and anything else.

To create a book promotion, begin with post updating to get the online viewer reading about you and your book. The online viewer becomes your online customer. Giving an online viewer an understanding of what you have to offer also leads to public speaking engagements, placing you in front of live audiences that will spend cash for your book and buy other products you sell online. 

Start to build brand for your ideas and your book. FaceBook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections or other social media contacts can be your initial online viewer. 

Selling books online has changed how we conduct a book promotion campaign.

I use social media to help in marketing my traditionally published book, Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with my grandmother. When the book was first released the publishing industry was just beginning to adjust to the new digital age. Now that the adjustment seems to have been made, I have become a content writer for attracting the Internet customer. Now on Amazon in both Kindle digital reader format and in print versions, my book reaches my target audience easier than ever. 

You probably have prestigious literary contributions and awards that you can incorporate into social media promotions and a press release. Look through your old portfolio and find something you can use in promotional copy. Even old stuff can be dusted off and paraded out for a new look. Social media connections will get a closer look at you for a greater appreciation for what you have to offer.

In addition to holding valuable marketing material, that old portfolio may hold valuable ideas you may have forgotten about or had not considered before as material to build brand. In reviewing my old portfolio, I found enough resources to write a book about one of my favorite historical subjects--Rosa Parks, the real women behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I wonder how social media would have affected Rosa Parks, Jim Crow laws  and the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks and similar online subjects are ideal for a history buff like me. 

Start today to build brand with a news release in the third person. Pretend you are writing about someone you greatly admire. Establish a YouTube channel. Just start! 

Custom Search anything here!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunny Nash Writes Novel

Sunny Nash won First Prize for an essay that is now her novel. 

Sunny Nash, Author-Journalist
Photo: Houston Post
Sunday Magazine
The novel is based on the true story of a bi-racial city slicker, whose ancestors migrated to Houston from a Louisiana plantation where they lived under a Jim Crow system for 30 years after emancipation.

Now that my manuscript is complete, I can begin another process--the publication process. In today's digital world, literary publication is ever changing. An author must consider the numerous ways of getting a manuscript into print and/or a digital reader. In addition, promotion of the resulting book is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning.

Even before my manuscripts is signed for publication, I enter them into a number of critical literary competitions. Because the original essay, On Being Black in Houston - Sanko's World, upon which I based Salla Mae's Prayers, won first prize in a national literary competition, which I discuss later, I thought, why not test the waters with the book?

Entering literary competitions is part of my literary journey.

Write a Book That Will Sell
The writing process is the creation part of my literary journey and the most satisfying part of my literary journey. During this journey, I give birth to characters, give them life and watch them grow and sometimes change.  Without the literary journey, the prize at the end--be it money or honors--is meaningless. 

Of course, I'd like to make money on this story. What author would turn down a good payday for his or her writing? However, I have a philosophy about writing. I write stories that need to be told, the ones that would never be known without me. I believe that we all contribute to the history of us, but some of us are not able to put words to our stories. That's where I come in and you, too, if you are a writer or wish to become a writer.

I write about race relations, civil rights history and Jim Crow laws in America. Usually, I approach subjects purely from a nonfiction standpoint. I love reading and writing fiction but I had never considered myself a candidate for writing long fiction. In fact, I have contributed short stories to several anthologies, such as my short story, Amen, which appeared in the Southwestern American Literature Journal and The African American West.

In longer works, like my book Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University TAMU Press), now also on Amazon Kindle (Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's), my genre is nonfiction. Recognized by the Association of American University Presses for its value to understanding U.S. race relations, my book is based on my syndicated newspaper columns of the 1990s. In my column, I wrote articles about my part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, and the rest of my family, taking readers by the hand in the voice of a child on a personal tour of the history of civil rights. Thanks to my TAMU Press editor, Mary Lenn Dixon, I am completing another nonfiction book for TAMU Press about race in America.

Houston Post-Houston Public Library 
Library Competition

However, in writing Salla Mae's Prayers, which was born long before my column or Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, I realized that a lot of history can be shared through long fiction, especially if the sources are primary. I knew Sanko personally and had access to his memories for a number of years. He told me his family story and allowed me to ask questions. At the time, it was just interesting conversation and I didn't know why he wanted me to know all of this. Only later did it become clear.

I chose to write Sanko's story as an novel after having written it as an essay that won first prize. I needed the literary freedom of dialog and scenes to frame the story within the context of the history of a particular historical period. I wanted to go inside the minds and hearts of my characters to show their fears, frailties, motives, weaknesses and growth.

Sanko's story was a series of conversations, years ago, between me and an elderly gentleman that I loved and respected. He told me he wanted to tell the story to someone who would, one day, know what to do with it. I really was hoping, at the time, that he would tell someone who already knew what to do with his family story. I did not know Sanko's story would become a book or even an essay that I would author. 

Years went by. Sanko died. My life took a new direction, but I never forgot him or his amazing story. Then, I had the opportunity to enter an essay competition about life in Houston, Texas. It was the perfect chance for me to start Sanko's story. I wrote my little essay and it won first prize. One of the judges, David Westheimer, wrote me afterwards and said I should write a novel about Sanko. I sat on Sanko's story for another few years before I knew what to do. David and I became friends and he continued for years to encourage me to write the novel. David said, "Sanko is such a compelling story that I can't forget it."

David Westheimer

David Westheimer, author of 16 fiction and nonfiction books, said this excerpt from my winning essay summed up the 8-year-old Sanko:

After Minnie marries hard-working Horace, they move to a little shack, much smaller than Callie Dee’s big rambling tastelessly furnished rooming house filled with whores. Horace is a rag man during the day, driving his mule wagon all over Houston collecting discarded clothing. For a few cents more, the paper company buys it. At night he delivers hunks of ice to people lucky enough to have iceboxes. Ironic, isn’t it? The iceman doesn’t have one.

It’s a good thing Minnie can make tasty meals from nearly nothing and almost always brings home leftovers. Horace is 6-foot-5, weighs close to 300 pounds and eats twice as much as his two homely daughters--Maxine and Bertha--put together. Sanko doesn’t think this marriage and new family are such a good deal. Two ugly, greedy sisters can never take the place of his whores. While Horace and Minnie work, Sanko gambles, delivers liquor, runs numbers and rendezvous’ on occasion with the whores back at Callie Dee’s, helping them pick up tricks and holding a percentage of the take for his trouble.

David Westheimer
David Westheimer, winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal in World War II (WWII) as a B-24 navigator, was a prisoner of war in Italy and in Germany. He wrote about his 1941 military experiences in his book, Sitting It Out: A World War II Pow Memoir with Photos.

Westheimer's B-24 was ditched off the coast of Italy, the first American plane lost over Italy in WWII. Behind enemy lines, David and six others were taken prisoners at Poggio Mirteto. Nine  months later,
the POWs almost escaped but were retaken by Germans, who transported them through the Alps to Stalag Luft III. Westheimer spent 19 months as a German POW before American troops liberated him on April 29, 1945. Spending a total of 28 months as a POW,  Westheimer wrote this book shortly after his release.

Von Ryan's Express
Starring Frank Sinatra
A journalist and author, David Westheimer was best known for writing the 1964 novel, Von Ryan's Express, which become a major motion picture in 1965, starring Frank Sinatra.

Von Ryan's Express is a great read for WWII enthusiasts, David writes the story of a trainload of American POWs' hijack of a German prisoner transfer train at the height of World War II and head toward their own lines with German troops in full pursuit. The story draws upon David's own POW experience during WWII.

David Westheimer also wrote the groundbreaking novel, My Sweet Charlie, addressing race relations in America in a unique and nonthreatening way without preaching.

David Westheimer's controversial novel expanded tolerance of racial equality between black and white  characters in literature.

My Sweet Charlie, released in 1966, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, is about a southern pregnant white girl and a black New York lawyer, who on each other for survival while on the run in rural Texas. 

Jim Crow laws in most of the United States at the time affected black-white relationships, especially between black men and white women. These relationships were still considered taboo on screen, even if they were non romantic. Remember, it was illegal in the southern United States for blacks and whites to wed until the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Loving v Virginia in 1967.  

My Sweet Charlie became the 1970 Emmy Award-winning television movie, starring Patty Duke and the late Al Freeman, Jr. In a story In the African American community, this was a big step for Jim Crow Hollywood just as the Civil Rights Movement was simmering to embers and still rare to see interracial casting. Early Hollywood films had a long tradition of segregated casting and television followed the same tradition. Southern movie theaters and advertisers both refused to show or support interracial casts.

David Westheimer, born April 11, 1917, in Houston, Texas, was also a syndicated newspaper columnist. So, you see how fortunate I felt to have such a gifted mentor, whom I trusted to tell me the truth about my writing. When David and I met at my award reception for On Being Black in Houston, Sanko’s World, David had already made his career in Los Angeles, where he wrote his column and worked in Hollywood.

Still at the beginning of my writing career, although I had a portfolio of journalism, I was years from my career as a features contributor to the Houston Chronicle's Texas Magazine, a published author, syndicated columnist, exhibiting photographer and television producer. In 1995, the Houston Chronicle absorbed the Houston Post. Like so many other cities across the nation, Houston could no longer support two daily papers. Further, the digital age has attacked the print media with such energy that many print publications including books published on paper have suffered losses that threaten their survival..

Over the course of our friendship, I moved to Los Angeles, too, hoping to widen my horizons to include film but, like David, I continued to write my syndicated column while I pursued Hollywood opportunities. David and his wife Dodie took my daughter and me to dinner often, but mostly we began to use email to communicate. No matter how we communicated, the conversation always ended with David asking, "How are you doing with the novel?"

I got tired of not having an answer to David's question. One day
, I sat down and started a piece to enter into a national competition. I needed to produce three chapters of unpublished fiction. One chapter of Sanko's story emerged and then another and another. I did not win the competition but I had my start. I sent the chapters to David. He read and commented on them constructively until I had written the entire book. Finally, when David had read the whole manuscript, he sent me a note: "It is time to send it out." That was his last email to me.

David Westheimer died November 8, 2005, in Los Angeles, California. I was so devastated over the death of my friend and mentor, I couldn't read or write another word concerning Sanko's story. It took me five more years to realize the responsibility I had to two men, Sanko and David, and Sanko's family.

The original story, under the title, On Being Black in Houston, Sanko’s World, written for the Houston Public Library Literary Competition, won first prize and appeared in the Houston Post Sunday Magazine on December 28, 1986. The day of the publication, my daughter and I had a reunion with Sanko's family. Only then, did it become clear to me why Sanko told me his story. He wanted his offspring to know. That was his way to achieve immortality.

Salla Mae, for whom the novel is named, was Sanko's grandmother. Loving and harsh at the same time, this former slave also found humor where ever her weary life could locate a laugh. Sanko remembered his grandmother well. "I was a little boy when she was alive," he said. "But I will never forget her laugh." Through Sanko's conversations with me about his grandmother, Salla Mae, the book takes us into the entangled relationships of plantation life during Salla Mae's girlhood, weaving the intriguing story of a family's emergence from isolated rural plantation existence as some one's property to the freedom of life in urban frontier sprawl.

The novel is told through Salla Mae as she prays for the welfare of her offspring, separated from her on the plantation where she still lives and works as she had when she was a slave. Her son, Odie, is the first to leave and then her daughter, Minnie, Sanko's mother, is sent away to live with Odie, a decision Salla Mae regrets after learning Minnie is being abused, the very reason she sent her away from the plantation. Salla Mae's Prayers, a multi-generational saga,  is based on letters that Salla Mae's children must have other people write for them, letters she must get other people to read to her. Salla Mae and her offspring were illiterate at that point. Salla Mae's untrained dialect is reflected in her prayers. Salla Mae's Prayers, which has taken  25 years to finish, is worth the love, and every tear and drop of sweat put into it. My advice to every writer is: Never give up on a great story.