This year, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. With Black History Month around the corner for many (it’s always black history for me), I am pushing to finish the first draft by February. Because it requires a lot of research, this is one of those books with a source page that will probably be thick enough for its own mini book. The discipline required to get this done made #NaNoWriMo more attractive this year to hold myself accountable.
My goal was to write every day and have 50K words down by the end of the month. Let’s see how I did.
Word Count as of 11/30/2021: 30,168. Chapters: 23 Pages: 113 Sources Page: 3,747 words, 15 pages
While I did not cross the 50K threshold, I am proud of making it this far because I wanted to get 25K down if I could not do the fifty.
I did not write every day. I spent days traveling, and even on returning, I did not get right back to writing immediately. The interesting thing is that I rested a lot, which helped me do more when I was writing. Taking days off actually helped, not hinder me. To quote the Nap Ministry on Twitter: “This idea that you gotta grind yourself into exhaustion and make work the center of your entire existence is not liberating.”
I found the word count ticker and badges (I won 7) on the website motivating. I would look at it and compete to see if I could beat the previous day’s count.
The most significant thing, though, has been ghosting social media for much of November. I am not a good multitasker. If I am to focus on completing something, I have to give it my full attention, and right now, that’s this black history book. I was not posting as much or blogging. I will probably continue being missing in action, except the remaining book review posts and NWW, until the draft is complete.
I’m not gonna lie; I looked at National Novel Writing Month sideways a couple of times. I didn’t think it was for me. I am not for the whole “write a book in ten or thirty days” kind of thing. And while it’s not something I would do every year, having participated, I can say that I enjoyed the push it has given me.
If there is one thing I would do differently, it would be to set my own word count goal and try to stick to writing a little every day instead of sitting at the computer for hours. That ain’t healthy.
Who else participated in NaNoWriMo? How was your experience?
I once paid $300 for a book cover. At the time, I couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money on a cover. Not only did I not have the money, but even if I did, I couldn’t afford to invest it into a book cover when there were, as I saw it, much more severe priorities in front of me. But, I was young and excited, and I wanted to publish this book, and I wanted that cover.
But I was broke, broke.
So, what did I do?
I set up a GoFundMe.
I went around to people I knew and explained my vision and why I was raising the money. I (and get this) talked to people.
And I don’t like talking to people.
Not only did I make enough to purchase the cover I wanted, but I also made that money right back at a Book Signing in Chicago.
You might be thinking, “But, EC, if you couldn’t afford to pay for a book cover, how did you cover editing?”
I didn’t. I had a friend edit the book, which is why it is retired today.
Self-Publishing is an area where the term, Proper preparation prevents pissed poor performance holds much weight. We don’t talk about it enough, but financial planning is part of the basics of Self-Publishing.
Self-Publishing requires a mindset shift regarding how you feel about yourself and how you look at your finances. One of the first things I’ve noticed in my journey is that most first-time Self-Publishers haven’t decided if they are publishing this book for themselves or publishing the book for others to read.
Did I confuse you there? Read on.
Publishing for Yourself vs. Publishing a Book that Sells
Publishing a book for yourself means you fulfill your dream of becoming a published author and want to give copies away to family and friends. It means you are not selling the book or wanting to create a business out of it; rather, you want to satisfy a desire for something you’ve always wanted to do.
In this case, it would not be necessary to put a lot of money into this project, mainly because you are not getting the money back through sales since you are not selling the book. You may decide to get your book cover made using a cover template from KDP or Lulu or a homemade cover from Canva. You might choose to have a friend edit the book for you or use free software for formatting. This would be sufficient for a book you don’t want to sell. There are tons of economical ways to publish a book for this purpose.
But, suppose you are publishing this book because you want to leverage your business, spread your message and get it into as many hands as possible. Suppose you are a speaker and want to sell copies at your event, see your book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble or get the book stocked at bookstores, libraries, and schools.
What if you are writing this book because you want other people to read it?
In this case, you must prepare for this journey from the mind of a business person and not only an author.
When you publish a book you intend to sell, you consider other factors outside of what you want from the book because this book isn’t only for you. You think about building a platform, the market, and you consider the financial obligation necessary to bring the vision forward.
This isn’t to say write a book that doesn’t speak to your soul. It means you publish a book that speaks to your soul and the soul of others. It means you are publishing a book you see is needed in your community.
“You may have a robust knowledge of quantum computing but if everything the audience wants from you is how to use Microsoft Excel, give them just that. You write no book about quantum computing until you are able to build an audience around it.
Most self-published authors don’t do this. They do the exact opposite. They write what they like and try to figure out how to shove it down people’s throats.”
-David O, Entrepreneurs Handbook
Publishing a Book You Want to Sell Requires A Financial Investment
Spending money on your book is only an investment if you have put a strategy in place designed to ensure how you will sell this book. This, in my experience, is the difference between publishing for yourself and publishing a book for other people to enjoy as well. Many authors who venture into Self-Publishing ignore the market, so the book doesn’t sell outside of close family and friends because they have written a book no one wants to read.
When was the last time you bought a book by an author you have NOT been following for some time, on a subject you really don’t care about?
This is called Indie Author Basics because we focus on laying a strong foundation (a well-written and packaged book) to make it easier to build everything else on top of it. Too many new Indie Books are not attractive, not well-written, poorly produced, and is about topics no one cares about. As a result, the average self-published author makes less than $1,000 per year, according to a survey by Guardian in 2015, and a third of them make less than $500 per year.
What does this have to do with preparing financially?
When authors publish books they intend to sell for reasons outside of themselves, they are mentally prepared to invest the time and money to produce a high-quality product because they know they will get a return on their investment if done right.
Again, an investment isn’t just putting your money into something. Investing is putting your money into something you know will yield a return, either financially, mentally, or spiritually. It is the act of allocating resources with the expectation of generating an income or profit.
That’s why we had to talk about if you want to even publish this book to sell it first because not everyone wants to publish a book to sell it, but for those who do, financial investment is necessary.
My books do not sit on the shelves with major traditionally published books (and sell) because I’m the best writer or because I have the best books or even the best marketing strategy. I also put good money into producing my books, among other things. I wasn’t going to say this, but it needs to be said that I practice what I preach.
It also needs to be said I am on a budget just like most of us, but I prepare early for this so that what I do invest into publishing my book isn’t coming from the money I need to grocery shop or pay bills. It is coming from the money I have saved and put away specifically for this project since I first decided I will publish the book. That’s how seriously I take my writing.
I am not saying spending lots of money on your book will guarantee sales. It won’t. You first have to publish a book people want to read. (Although I got my money back from what I spent on the cover from the screenplay, the book did not continue to sell after that.) But, after that, making sure the book is well packaged plays its part too.
I am also not telling you to sell a leg to publish your book. There is nothing wrong with finding economical ways to publish (premade covers are cheaper than custom made), but if you try to find the cheapest way possible or skim on editing because you don’t want to put in the work, it will only cost you more in the end.
On this day in 2016, I posted about a former slave plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana I visited that weekend. I shared my experience on this blog, but I never made it a Black History Fun Fact. As the memory popped up in my Facebook archives, I decided to add it to the collection. Below is the original post for those of you who were not following me in 2016 and never saw this.
Originally Published on 11/28/2016
I took a week off to unplug and to spend time with my family. In addition to camping, we visited the Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Reading and watching movies about slavery is one thing, but touring a former slave plantation is an entirely different experience. I didn’t get very emotional, but I will say for now that gratitude is my best way of describing it—appreciation for all the comforts I enjoy in my life that my ancestors paid for with their blood. As the sun lowered and we prepared to leave, I thought about what they would be doing at this time of the day. I thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines or, perhaps, still working.
Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton.
The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
The Overseer’s House
Overseers were the middlemen of the Antebellum South’s plantation hierarchy. Sometimes they were white men working for the slave owner, and other times they were enslaved men hired to rule over their brothers. The “masters” expected overseers to maintain a workforce of slaves to produce a crop. The enslaved were the overseer’s responsibility. He was to keep them working by any means necessary. In return, he got to occupy his own cabin or possibly get a bit more food. The perception was that because his job was “better,” he himself was better off, but he was still an enslaved person.
Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove!
I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.
Slave Quarters turned Home of Sharecroppers
After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land up until the 1970s. They worked twelve hours a day, six days a week.
Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in this wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire, earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress. All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer.
Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983.
The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also ran the Post Office located inside.
Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.
Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, the plantation reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.
Cane Syrup Pot
Used to make cane syrup.
On some plantations, they used these pots to punish the enslaved and to boil them alive (as depicted in the movie “Mandingo.” CLICK HERE to see the clip.)
The Big House
This is the porch and perimeter of “The Big House.” We could tour everywhere except for this house. We were not allowed inside, and they did not give us a reason why.
It was overwhelming to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the Louisiana sun, and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees lined the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were planted in 1825.
I don’t know what a stranger’s room is (guest room?), but it’s a room in the big house. I tried to take pics of the inside from the window. It looks like the original furniture is still preserved.
The carriage house dates to 1820. In its earlier years, the east bay was used as a horse stall. The overseer had the horse saddled each day and tied to the chain so that it was available for riding and checking the fields.
Square Corn Crib and Cistern
The Corn Crib was built around 1821 of hand-hewn cypress logs and was used to store grain for the plantation. Rainwater was channeled from the crib roof into the cistern, which was 16 ft deep and held 4804 Gallons of water used for watering stock.
There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’ Hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab.”
Husband checking out the Chicken Coop.
Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.
What I carried home with me was an even deeper appreciation for those little things we take for granted every day. I was headed back to the campsite to sleep in a tent, but I knew that eventually, I’d be going home to a hot shower, a full meal, and a warm bed. As we packed up to leave the plantation, I considered what it would be like to be forced to stay. What is it like not to have a home to go back to and nothing more to look forward to tomorrow than the same back-breaking work?
My revelations were not just in relation to dark history (I am aware black history is not just about slavery). As I looked around the land, I saw how the enslaved built almost everything on the property. It reminded me of how skillful and resourceful we are as a people. From shelters to clothing, food, and shoes, I thought how empowering it would be to get back to building our own.
Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that Israelites, so-called Blacks, were not as naive as we are taught. It occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture. Otherwise, we were expert farmers, inventors, midwives, carpenters, and chefs. Thus, I left not just in appreciation for the tangible things in my life, but for everything my people have endured and the knowledge they’ve passed down to me through the generations.
Being that I drafted this post when we got home so it can be ready for you today, I’m going to crawl into this bed and get ready to catch up. I’ll be scrolling your blogs to see what I missed. The grind continues.
Since the meat of book one focuses on what life was like for a little girl, and then a young woman, growing up in slavery, the bulk of my research had to do with reading slave narratives and studying enslavement through the eyes of women and children.
Between Slavery and Freedom centers on Stella’s enslavement on The Saddler Plantation in Louisiana. As I introduce us to the first Stella, she is a six-year-old girl enslaved with her mother, Deborah. At this age, she is not aware that she is living property, which was typical for some enslaved children in their early years. She plays with the other children, including the slave owners’ daughter, but she does not yet understand the value of her flesh, that she could be bought, sold, traded, transferred, deeded, and gifted. Stella describes the plantation as a “big family.” She loves running through the dirt and the way it feels on her toes. She talks of childish things like eating sweet cakes, playing with Miss Carla, and trying to convince Mama, she touched the sun.
“One time, I made it where I touched the sun. It wasn’t even hot either. It didn’t feel like nothing but air. I told Mama the sun was tricking us.
“And how it do that?”
“Cause Mama. I touched it, and it ain’t burn my finger none. It feels hot, but it ain’t really.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
Historically, enslaved children who had a “childhood” in this way realized their status gradually. Their awakened consciousness may have been signified by seeing a family member sold for the first time or being sold themselves. The research points to ten as the age where the enslaved child knew and understood that he or she was property, except in the circumstances, as I have mentioned. As soon as they were old enough, the enslaved child’s life changed, and they realized that their lives as enslaved differed greatly from the lives of the white children they once played with as small children.
Slave-owners raised southern white youth as enslavers in training. Sometimes slave-owners gifted their children an enslaved person as a pet (sometimes it was the same child they played with). Literature also played a role in the training of southern youth to not only accept slavery as a regular part of society but to prepare them to own slaves of their own. Examples of such books is The Child’s Book on Slavery; or Slavery Made Plain. In a chapter called The Duty of Learning about Slavery, it states:
“if slavery is good, we ought to help it forward…”
In a chapter called Does Color Make Slavery, it states:
“Moses and all his people, I have said, were slaves in Egypt, but they were not colored people.”
This explanation was to try to explain to the children that slavery wasn’t based on skin color, and it is a lie. Egypt is in Africa. Moses and his people were “people of color.”
In a chapter called What is a Slave, the author compares the enslaved to a horse, saying:
“Perhaps your father has a horse. That is his property. He has a right to make the horse work, only he should treat him kindly and give him good food. If the horse is his, nobody has a right to tell him he must not use the horse so. And then, if he thinks it best, he has a right to sell the horse to somebody else. Nobody has a right to forbid him. He need not go and ask even the horse, if he may have him plow the garden, or draw the wagon, for the horse would not understand him, and could not speak to him, and will never grow so old or so wise, that he can understand our words, and talk himself.”
Speaking of literature, another part of writing book one was reading many slave narratives, including Frederick Douglass An American Slave, and Up from Slavery. Other books included When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park
“Some people have to take the cotton and pick out the seeds, and others have to spin and weave. They don’t do nothing but spins and weaves. Some people even had to turn the weaves into threads.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
More profound than this is my visit to a former slave plantation at The Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
You might ask yourself why anyone would want to visit such a place. I was writing about people living on a slave plantation and what better way to get inside their heads than to visit one.
Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’ Homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton. The Prud’ Hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
“Down in the quarters, every family had a one- or two-room log cabin. Mostly one room though. We had mattresses filled with corn shucks. Sometimes the men build chairs at night. We didn’t know much about having anything, though. There were a lot of cabins for the slaves, but they weren’t fitting for nobody to live in. We just had to put up with them.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land until the 1970s, and slave quarters became homes to sharecroppers later. The people worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. Seeing this with my own eyes put it into perspective how the south had reconstructed slavery by returning land to former slave owners and putting former slaves back into the fields under another name. Slave codes designed to control the enslaved became black codes intended to control freedmen, and cotton pickers became sharecroppers.
Finally, part of my preparation for book one also included where I was living at the time I started writing these books.
At the time I released the first book in this trilogy, my husband and I lived in an old house owned by our elderly cousin on 40-acres of land. Over the years, we planted a garden on the property, built a chicken coop and raised chickens, owned several dogs, goats, and even a horse. My grandmother-in-law also recounted stories of when she and some cousins picked cotton on this land.
The elderly cousin and her father built the house we rented many years ago. It was an old house and an old land. It was easy for my overactive imagination to envision what it would be like if we were not renting this house from our cousin; if we were not free to live life on our own terms; if this was not the 2000s, but the 1800s, and if we were not free but enslaved. I walked the property, breathed the air, and looked up at the trees. I had dreams of black people hanging from those trees and visions of people trying to escape.
We lived on that land for five years, eventually moving away in 2015, and I had a completed manuscript.
I’ve been swamped in schoolwork which is stopping me from living my best life on these black history posts. Today, I compiled a list of links I found throughout the week and books I recommend since I did not get to complete a full post on one topic. The books are what I really encourage you to look into. Unlike the internet, they provide more detailed and in-depth research and citations from scholars and others useful for deep research.
Descendants of Last Slave Ship Still Live in Alabama Community
The story of the Clotilda and the people who built Africatown.
I spoke about “Africa Town” once before on this blog (See post here). This article shares some insightful information on the descendants of that town. (You may also remember the book recently released on behalf of Zora Neale Hurston of the Clotilda).
South African paramilitary unit plotted to infect black population with Aids, former member claims
Group said to have ‘spread the virus’ at the behest of Keith Maxwell, eccentric leader of the shadowy South African Institute of Maritime Research, who wanted a white majority country where ‘the excesses of the 1960s, 70s and 80s have no place in the post-Aids world’.
My Guest Blog Post on The Story Reading Ape Blog. My message is simple: Authors, please do your OWN research, FACT CHECK, and experience this journey for yourselves. Don’t let someone tell you something is a waste of time or money. Double check everything for yourself first and ask questions from those who have been where you are trying to go and who actually know what they are talking about.
*Comments disabled here. Please meet me on the other side.*
Hey Guys! Wow. It’s been a long time. I miss you all!
*waves to readers and sits on virtual sofa*
This article started out extremely long but then I realized how necessary it was to keep this short and simple.There is so much information out here for Independent Authors and so many made-up commandments it isn’t funny. Everyone has an opinion on what the new author should and shouldn’t do. Everyone has a piece of advice to give or stones to throw. If you move this way you are doing it wrong and if you move that way you are still doing it wrong. There are more laws for the Self-Publisher than there are in the bible. There is something to say about everything. This is why I humbly advise each person to experience everything for themselves and to do their own research. Sometimes you don’t need to…
Yes Yes and Yes! I was just working on a guest article covering this same subject. Please, authors, do your research. Don’t let the perceived prestige of “being signed” get you scammed! Times have changed and there’s a lot you can do yourself.