The Small Business of Writing

women writers writing small-business

I recently “attended” the online Women in Publishing Summit where women from all avenues of the writing/publishing world spoke, addressing different topics. One of the talks mentioning branding struck me in particular.

Dana Malstaff, bestselling author and founder of Boss Mom, said that when it came time to give her book a title, she garnered the opinions of her followers, having them take a poll. She said the title they chose was the one she had liked the LEAST. And yet, because that’s what her audience liked, that’s what she stuck with.

As I heard her say it, I was reminded of an Egyptian saying I heard long ago from my grandmother. Roughly translated it says, “Eat what you like, but wear what others like.” And all my life I thought that was a load of crap. I’m going to eat AND wear what I like, thank you very much! If one pays such attention to the opinions of people around her, she will live forever at the mercy of their judgement.

And I still feel this way…about one’s personal life.

Malstaff’s experience opened my mind to the possibility that taking people’s opinions into account can sometimes be better for you professionally.

When it comes to business (and writers are essentially small business owners), you have to cater to your audience. So if your followers prefer one title over another, you should go with the one they choose. If they prefer one logo over another, again, you should follow their advice. Because in the end, these are the representatives of your larger audience, and they are telling you “I am more likely to spend my money on this title and this logo.”

As I listened to the talk, I remember thinking, “But where do you draw the line? Do you let them decide character names? What about plot points?”

But honestly, I don’t think that line is a very fine one. I think that the audience can help you gauge the outside of your product, the look, how it’s presented, but they will continue to follow you because they enjoy the meat of your work, the stories you produce.

Well, what about sequels? What if you never intended to write a sequel for your novel, but your readers keep asking about one, what then? Before I watched this talk, I was of the opinion that I would not write a sequel based on popular demand. But now, if I’m thinking like a business woman, I think I may have to reconsider.

I’m going to continue to eat and wear what I like, but when it comes to my books—their titles, their covers and anything else related to how they look—I’ve begun to shift my reasoning. I’m convinced that even if it goes against my own desire, I should take the advice of my audience. Not only will including them in such an important decision help to make stronger connections, but it will also encourage them to purchase my products, knowing that their opinions are invaluable to me.

About that sequel to Behind Picket Fences? I haven’t decided yet. I’ll keep you updated.

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Brotherly Love

parenting siblings family love

When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, my older brother (I’ll continue to refer to him as Genius) had a bad fall off his bike. He split his chin open and my dad had to take him to the hospital. I remember it as being night, but it’s very possible that my mind isn’t catching all the details accurately. My mom stayed home with me. My younger brother, Allah yirhamu (God rest his soul), must have been a toddler, but I don’t remember him being there. What I do remember is how concerned I was about Genius. I was so worried. What was going to happen to him? Would they be able to fix him? What if they couldn’t fix him; what then? I’m sure my mom tried to calm me, but I don’t really remember that. All I remember is the feeling: being petrified that something bad was going to happen to my older brother.

I felt like they were gone for hours. And during the whole time, I just kept praying he would be okay.

What felt like a lifetime later they finally walked in the door. And do you know what Genius had in his hand? Guess. Go on, guess. Nope, try again. Give up?

He had in his hand a McDonald’s bag. There I had been, worrying my ass off about this kid, and he’d been having a grand ol’ time at good ol’ Mickey D’s! And, to top it all off, he didn’t even bring me any chicken nuggets!

Ok, so I obviously don’t remember whether or not he brought me anything, but you get the picture.

At the time, I don’t actually think I cared whether or not he brought me any chicken nuggets; I was so incredibly relieved that he was home and, besides for the bandage on his chin, that he was fine. I was so incredibly relieved.

I recently got a glimpse of this same kind of sibling love between my own children. Generally speaking, my kids do get along, Alhamdulillah. They fight sometimes of course, but more often than not, they’re causing trouble as a posse. God bless them.

A couple of weeks ago, my 15 year old, M, woke up in the middle of the night in a choking fit. He couldn’t breathe. It was a terrifying experience for all of us, including my younger kids. When the fit subsided and his breathing went back to normal, the younger kids kept saying, “Is M ok?” “Mom, don’t send M to school today.”  As my youngest kissed me goodbye that morning she said to me, “Mom, take care of M.”

These moments of trouble, as horrible and distressing as they are, are also blessings from God, to let us see this beautiful love that may otherwise live masked for years. I hope the three younger kids all remember how they felt that morning, how anxious they were for M, how much they loved him. And I hope he remembers it as well.

That kind of brotherly love, that’s God’s gift, people. If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with it, cherish it. Cherish it in your youth, and return to it as you get older. And don’t let anything make you forget it, especially money, the demon known to pull families apart.

Oh, did I tell you about the time Genius borrowed a thousand bucks from me on an “inside tip”?

Well, that’s a story for another time.

The Kindness of Strangers

writing support

We hear about the kindness of strangers every so often, and for a little while it restores our faith in humanity. Yesterday during a writing related event I had my most recent brush with this pure, unselfish type of kindness. It was a light, brief interaction, but it touched me deeply enough to make me tear up.

Yesterday was the Twitter Pitch Party known as #PitMad. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term—as I was just a few weeks ago—a pitch party is a day where authors tweet about their books, and book professionals (mostly agents but editors as well) hunt those tweets for enticing new stories. If an agent likes a tweet, that is an invitation for that author to send more info about their book to him.

For us authors, it is a big deal to be invited to send your query. We can spend months (years even?) sending unsolicited queries and getting nowhere. Contacting an agent who has shown interest in your project gives you a leg up.

Because of the time difference (and also the fact that dealing with life and balancing social media can be tricky) I had scheduled my tweets to post at specific times. What did I expect? I knew, because I had done my research about how best to word the pitch, that it would get a few takers. But what I didn’t expect AT ALL from this pitch party was the amazing support of other authors.

I say this not because I think people are evil or antagonistic, but because in an event like this, I figured, authors are concerned with their own work, their own pitches. I was blown away by the fact that people I have never met—not even online!—were supporting me by retweeting my posts to help me get more exposure. They made comments of “sounds interesting” or “wow” to show their support. They gave me a few moments of their time, and it truly affected me.

I have always been a supporter. I cheer my fellow writers on and pass on any information I think could help them. I believe in paying it forward, in writing and in life. But sometimes I fall into a funk, and figure, “My support really doesn’t matter. My words are just words; they won’t mean anything to this person.” And then something like this happens. And I remember how important it is to encourage others, and how it ALWAYS makes a difference, even if you never get to see that.

May you always remember to pay it forward. And may it come back to you a thousand times over. Because when it does, that’s truly one of the best feelings.

Becoming Me

true-self inspirational writer

Our early and adolescent years are rife with growth and development. Many people believe that we continue to develop throughout our lives. What’s more, they attach to this development a heavy price, claiming that if we do not do so, then we’ve wasted precious time. But I don’t agree. I believe that it is possible to mature in years without altering the core of who we are, and for that to be a benediction. I believe that, with many of us, time simply helps us become more of ourselves.

Consider two young men. The first is about twenty and obsessed with sports. He goes to his classes, studies just barely enough to pass, shuns his family to spend time with friends or catch a game, and often lies to escape penalties or to get his way. This man, ten years later, teaches his children the gravity of lying, makes sure he and his family remain spiritually aware, sits around a dining room table, the TV off despite his favorite team playing, laughing with his family, truly enjoying their company. He clearly underwent significant change. If he hadn’t, he would’ve spent so much of his life concerned with things which would have never given meaning or true happiness to his life.

The second man in our scenario appreciated spending time with his family even when he was only twenty. He enjoyed sports, too, but it was extracurricular to him; life came first and he wouldn’t change plans he had with family or friends to accommodate for watching a game. He never lied and always considered prayer an important part of his life. Ten years later, he still prefers the company of his family to anyone else, and he still has the same values.

The second man hasn’t changed, although for sure he is wiser, more mature at thirty than he was at twenty. His core was not altered; he became cemented in who he already was. And because he had a strong foundation, this constancy isn’t a bad thing.

Throughout our lives we continue to learn and grow, to search for who it is we want to be, who it is we were meant to be. But if we were fortunate enough to have a foundation rich in values, and life experiences which taught us strength and perseverance, then our essence will form early on and won’t change significantly over the years.

Today, I am more of who was I was twenty years ago. I was then and continue to be someone who believes in putting God first, family second, and everything else third. I believed in and continue to believe in honesty and sincerity, being kind and doing good. Yes, I have gained knowledge over the years, and wisdom, and some of my opinions on various topics have undoubtedly changed. I used to be more positive, believed the world held more kindness than indifference. Now I see that we are surrounded by more war, more hatred, more crimes against humanity than ever before. I see the ugliness we live in and wonder ‘Is There Any Hope?’ But I remain, at my core, very much the same. I often wonder at the circumstances which formed me—the true essence of who I am—all those years ago. And I believe that, after God’s Grace and my parents’ love and care, a large part of it was due to growing up as a minority.

When you’re a brown Muslim kid in a school system where all the minorities combined make up a single digit percentage, you have two options: embrace your individuality, or fight it. I know people who fought it. I know people who were ashamed of their ancestral cultures, who wanted nothing more than to diffuse into that melting-pot. I also know people who walked tall in their differences, and brushed off those pesky belittlers with a certainty that self is a priceless asset which is appraised by so much more than just today’s experiences. Self—true self—takes into account how you came to be where you are, all the languages you use to communicate, the beliefs you’ll continue to hold even after the demise of time. I praise God that He made me strong enough to accept and be proud of my differences. That experience is only one of the great blessings of my life.

My children don’t get this particular blessing. They are being raised in place where all their schoolmates speak the same mother tongue, where they are all different shades of the same soil, and where most of them prostrate in worship in the same direction. For sure, this is another type of blessing. But it is a challenge for me as a parent…

When I was young and the other kids would do something which is forbidden in my religion or culture, I could always say, “I’m different from them. I don’t do that because of this difference.” I’m sure my parents taught us that at a young age. But now, when my kids see their classmates doing something that is against their religion or culture, I cannot use this logic. These kids all stem from the same roots. How do you point out these forbidden acts and not sound like you’re judging? How do you make your kids understand that it’s okay to be different when they have never seen anyone be different? How do you filter from their psyches all the habits they’ve picked up which, although popular or common, go against your values?

My children are still young and developing. I’ll keep advising them, hoping my words will somehow be more visible than the actions surrounding them. I pray God guides them to embrace their true selves early on, ones they will hold onto and treasure.

It’s great going through life knowing who you are. May you be graced with this blessing.

 

My Being Alive

#metoo, #enough, poetry

Eyes to the ground

Hands to yourself!

My smile does not mean you can touch me.

My laugh does not mean you can touch me.

My short skirt does not mean you can touch me.

My low-cut blouse does not mean you can touch me.

 

You may NOT touch me!

Not with your eyes

Or your tongue

Or your hands.

My being alive

Does not mean

You can do what you want with me.

My being alive,

My living my life,

My laughing,

My singing,

My dancing,

My dressing any way I please…

Is my business.

It is NOT an invitation.

Keep Your Car Doors Locked

mom's funny taxi story

I often take taxi services to run my errands. They are better kept, more reliable than, and typically the same price as a regular taxi. So today I had an errand to run, and I took all the usual steps to get a car. When I got the message that it had arrived, I immediately left my apartment and made my way to the entrance of my building.

I step out onto the sidewalk and look right and left, reading all the license plates. When I can’t find the appropriate one, I dial the driver’s number. Just then I see the plate I’m looking for. I hang up and go to the passenger’s side of the car and pull at the handle. Nothing. I try again. Again, nothing.

I’m thinking to myself, “Why does this guy have the doors locked?”

Just then I hear him say something to me through the window that’s open just a crack.

“It’s open??” I repeat.

So I try again. And again, nothing happens.

Then he says something else.

“What?”

He rolls down the window just a bit more and says, “I’m not a taxi service.”

At first I didn’t understand what he was saying. So I repeated it.

“You’re not a taxi service?”

“No,” he says.

And it finally dawns on me: I was totally trying to bust into a strange man’s car!

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!”

I apologized and walked back to the sidewalk.

Yeah, I almost got into a stranger’s car and demanded that he drive me to my destination!

When the words “I’m not a taxi service” finally registered in my mind, two distinct scenarios flashed before me. The first was that the car door had opened when I first yanked it, I got in and told the guy to hurry up because I didn’t want to be late. And for him to be like, “Lady, what the hell is wrong with you?! Get the F out of my car!” And me being like, “What the hell is wrong with me! What the hell is wrong with you?! Why be a driver for a taxi service if you’re going to tell your customers to get out of your car?” And he’d be like, “I’m not a driver you crazy woman! Get out!!”

Which would have been pretty unfortunate. Nonetheless, it would have been better than the second scenario: me getting into the car, him driving off, and me disappearing forever. Yeah…not good.

So the moral of the story folks: sometimes that crazy lady trying to bust into your car isn’t a killer or a maniac. Sometimes she’s just a frazzled mom (and probably an artist of sorts…most likely a writer) and she just messed up the license plate number. Do the decent thing: drive her where she needs to go!

Destroy Everything But The Books

parenting and writing

I haven’t written a blog post in about two weeks now. Partly I was in a slump about the recent rejections by literary agents for novel #3, but mostly I was in a slump because my kids were on their mid-year break…and apparently my brain doesn’t work when they’re home. But, they are back in school (hurray!) and my brain is back on (hurray again!). I do feel like something is missing when I don’t get the chance/brain space to write. I think that must be one of the qualities of most writers: we feel incomplete when we’re not writing. God bless my kids always, but writing while parenting is a tricky business. Actually, anything while parenting is a tricky business, even just keeping your home habitable…

While the kids were on vacation, I recognized something about myself which I haven’t quite decided how to take. I recognized that I don’t get attached to anything materialistic. It isn’t that I’m such a deep, spiritual person that I shun materialism. I’d love to say that’s the reason, but it isn’t. The real reason is that I have kids. And my kids can ruin anything. Annnnyyyything. Seriously. And they totally believe that if they can, they should. Well, they probably don’t actually believe that, but with how they act, that’s totally what you’d think.

So I’ve stopped getting upset when they break more pieces off the chandelier. Or when the glass on the entertainment system cabinet crashes…again. Or when they rip my rug. Or smash my once-favorite mug. Or stain the couch. If it can get ruined, it will…and I have learned to just accept it.

I have mixed feelings about my lack of anger at all the ruined things. On the one hand, being unattached to all things material is really the best way to live. I completely acknowledge that. On the other hand, isn’t it a bit sad that I find nothing material to be precious? I love that chandelier. It used to be beautiful. And the stain filled couch, it was the best couch ever. But now they remain in a dying state, still useable but quite clearly no longer in their prime. And I’m totally fine with it. Have no plans of refurbishing or re-upholstering or anything. They’ll stick around until they fall completely apart. And so what, no big deal. Everything has a limited lifetime; my kids were put here to make sure all the things in my home die an early, painful death.

The one thing I do still find precious is my books. By ‘my’ I mean all those that I possess as well as the ones that I myself have written. About a year ago my son made the tiniest mark on the inside cover of my only copy of Normal Calm. I totally flipped out. “Why don’t you respect anything?!” And I went on and on. Just thinking about it now makes me livid.

I’m not sure where the discrepancy comes from. Is it just that I’m a writer, so books are valuable in my eyes? Is it that I’m a reader, so the written word is special, sacred almost? Or is it simply that this is my weakness?

I think it’s probably all of the above. And I have no intention of changing my book-protective mentality. I will shrug off the stained couch, chipped walls (their doing), and broken door frame (also their doing), but I will beat their asses if they come near my books!

 

Are you a writer and a parent? Do you feel the same way? Would love to hear your thoughts.