Late one evening on the way from Pic-o-De-Crop Finals (the national calypsonian contest in Barbados during the summer Crop Over Festival) my niece was teasing me about how I should stop driving and take the bus. I’m notorious for my horrible night vision. In reply I jested, ‘No, you have it wrong. I need to make enough money to hire a chauffeur.”
Instead of laughter, there ensued a serious discussion about how hard it is to make a living as an artist. No argument there, but what made me pause was: “What you really need is a full time job.”
I felt my ears burning. “Wait! So what do you think I’m doing?” I screamed in my head.
What I said in an even voice was, “Not necessary. That’s okay.”
I continued with, “There are artists, writers specifically, who are doing their thing quite successfully.”
My niece countered, “But aren’t a lot of them doing other things to make money?”
“Yes, but that’s by choice; they don’t have to.”
Then after a bit more time defending my case, I realized I shouldn’t really blame her. You see, like many looking on, her vision is too narrow. Besides, I was not the best example of “success” – if you measured it in dollars and cents, that is.
But then again, what is life without balance? Do I always write with $$ as the goal? Most emphatically not. Do I want the frenetic soul wrenching burden of being yoked to someone else’s schedule and whims as an employee? Or even doing something day after day for which I have no passion? (Please understand that not only do I have great respect for people that do this, there were times I had to do it myself. It takes tremendous fortitude.) Been there, done that and posed by the life-sized cutout character.
However, I must confess many times instead of producing regularly and being much more organized, I coast. (or get lost in a game or catch up on Facebook or watch a movie or take a nap or read). Inconsistency will not yield the money that I could be making. So, I made a renewed commitment to earn more income from my writing. After my pledge, I made a list of areas – some which I’ve started on already – that are sure to expand my writing:
I like giving away books more than I like the idea of spending money on advertising because I believe if a product is good enough it will sell itself. But in December 2012, for Potbake’s fourth birthday, we decided to offer free ebooks and spend no more than USD 100.00 advertising the offering. It sounds strange right: Avertising something that’s free? But I’ve since learnt that not because something is free means people will know about it. Imagine you’re in the grocery and you walk along all the aisles except the one where they happen to be giving out free samples of a wine or snack you really want to taste.
So, we had an offer and we knew our max budget, but I didn’t have a plan except to run the ads on Facebook and Google and share posts, tweets and pictures on Google+, Twitter and Instagram on the actual days of the offering. When I mentioned this to dad, he gave me something to think about: do movies just show up one day in the cinema? I thought about it and two weeks before I created an article on potbake.com promoting the offering (which turned out to be a great thing because as it turns out advertising an external URL on Facebook was a lot cheaper than an actual Facebook post; compare USD 0.05 to USD 0.65). We shared the link on the different channels we mentioned, got Retweets, Likes, Shares and +1s. Randy Baker was kind enough to post an article on the 15 December mentioning the free books. Then we scheduled campaigns on Facebook and Google with ads that linked to our website article rather than the links to the books on Amazon.com. This was important in terms of measuring the traffic the campaigns generated. If you’re an author or publisher it’s a pretty good idea to have a website, Facebook Page, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest account. This isn’t vanity and there’s no need to daily slave after maintaining these accounts, but you need to connect with as many people possible. I went along with no clear plan but hopefully the madness might make sense. The first step was to enrol the book in Amazon’s KDP Select which facilitates 5 days of free promotion and allows Select Members to borrow the book for free.
Advertising on Facebook
The first thing I learnt is that you can’t advertise to the people of the world. You need to have some idea of who might be interested, what’s their age, where are they from. For example, I needed to advertise to folks who have some interest in an Amazon Kindle. But registering that interest to the world may yield a result in the millions so I targeted the people of the Caribbean interested in Amazon.com, the Kindle or Kindle Fire. Note: If the books were for sale, I wouldn’t have advertised to people with these interests between the ages of 13 and 17. While they might be interested, they would have less buying power. But the books were free. I included teenagers. Figure 1 shows that an audience of 105,580 from the Caribbean fit this profile.
In November 2012 I featured an interview with Eve Seymour, a new Caribbean writer of Erotica. Her rambunctious tale, Broken Rules puts her firmly in line to become the foremost Caribbean writer of Erotica. (Those of you who’ve read the book, please correct me if I’m wrong!)
Now, please allow me to introduce you to the work of Robert E. Sandiford, whom I consider the foremost Caribbean writer of Erotica at this time.
Robert E. is no newcomer on the local, regional and international scenes. Journalist, essayist, biographer, short story writer, novelist, video producer and editor extraordinaire, he is one of Barbados’s top contemporary writers.
To date he’s written and had published short story collections, essays, his memoirs, and (my favourite!) a series of erotic graphic novels: Attractive Forces, Stray Moonbeams and Great Moves.
It’s easy to lose your way when writing, especially in Act II. Here’s the diagram that I use to help me control the plot and structure of a full length feature film. This technique is all courtesy of Syd Field, the master of screenwriting. I would encourage everyone to read his books “The Screenplay” or “The Screenwriter’s Workbook”.
Do the story arc.
Right so Syd Field uses a story called “The Unhappy Marriage”. A young woman, a painter in an unhappy marriage, enrols in an art class and has an affair with her teacher. Against her will she falls in love with him, then learns she is pregnant. Torn between her husband and her lover, she decides to leave them both and raise the child by herself.
This is the setup act, where we learn what the story is about, who the characters are, and why we care about them. Your main character is normally in every scene, and we go through “a day in her life”. So for instance, in this story we could portray the unhappy marriage with a scene of them eating breakfast in silence, sleeping in separate bedrooms, arguing etc. The woman, let’s call her Mary, is a painter, so maybe we could see her releasing her frustration through painting. The TP1 (Turning Point One) occurs when she enrols into the art class. This is the inciting incident; the moment where your main character’s life could never be the same. If we’re writing a 100 page script, then Act One should be approx. 25 pages.
“I come from Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. I write stories of and from the Caribbean. My first book was The Boy from Willow Bend and Oh Gad! is my most recent. You can check out my personal blogto see what else I’ve done in between and since. One of the things I do is run a writing programme in Antigua and Barbuda; there is a blog attached to that programme where, among other things, I blog on books. Surprise, right, a writer who loves to read.
With end of year upon us, I thought I might share some favourite Caribbean reads. I’m limiting my list to adult fiction that I’ve read in the last couple of years, but keep in mind that just because it’s newish to me doesn’t mean it’s new-new. And just because it’s not listed doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, but really the list has to end somewhere. So, it goes without saying that this list is both severely limited and highly subjective.