I've been a book reviewer for the Nonfiction Author's Association (NFAA) for over a year now. So when I agreed to review nonfiction books for their reward program, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. I'm so grateful to Stephanie Chandler for starting the organization ten years ago. She found, as I have that many associations and development of the craft of writing are devoted to fiction writing; leaving fiction authors to attempt to garner what we can from the fiction world.
The most recent book I reviewed for NFA was Battle Carried: Imperial Japanese Tiger Flags of World War Two by Michael A. Bortner. Wow, did I learn a lot. The book is well-researched and insightful on a very specific topic. Not only is the book well-written, the graphic design is thoughtfully laid out, organizing tigers by their position and stance. This was enjoyable to read and to view as there is so much to learn. This experience felt like being immersed in a wonderful museum exhibit.
When I'm asked to select a book to review for NFAA, I choose a topic to learn something new. This one certainly helped me to meet that objective. If this book didn't find me through NFAA, it may have found me at a used book store or on a table of unfiled books at a library. Fortuitously, the right books seem to find the people who are meant to read them.
I found Don't Shoot I'm the Guitar Man by Buzzy Martin in one of those take a book, leave a book boxes. There's serendipity when books find you, when they reach out asking to be read. I'm fascinated by musicians.
I gave this book a four-star Amazon review. The story is good but the writing needs a little tweaking. As stated in other published reviews, there is too much repetition in the daily journal entries. I was surprised to see that the book was published by a traditional publisher and made it through editing. The book was later turned into a film.
As I started to connect the dots, the reason a traditional publisher picked up this book started to make sense. Buzzy's experience took place in the late 90s. The world was an interesting place then. Pre-teen Polly Klaas was captured in her own home during a sleepover with two other young girls and ultimately murdered by a repeat offender. Her notorious crime created the "three strikes law," putting many in prison for life. It was also the time of the TV show Scared Straight! which was supposed to give at-risk youth insight into what prison life is like, scaring them to stay away. Buzzy, in addition to volunteering at San Quentin, worked with at-risk youth, teaching them music and trying to share the reality of prison life so they might make better choices.
The book was painful to read, and I'm sure, even more difficult to live through. The thought of prisoners serving life touched by the power of music and forgetting where they were for a moment is profoundly moving. Reading Buzzy's stories of interacting with child molesters and murders was harrowing. I'm grateful Buzzy's career path took him to work with at-risk youth and, ultimately, San Quentin prison. He touched people's lives in a way he never could have on a big stage. It broke my heart to learn how the prison was dubbed "San" Spanish for Saint. Like any good memoir, this book provides the opportunity to learn and grow. I can forgive the repetition in the writing. I'm grateful to Buzzy for sharing his gift and then sharing the story with the world.
Mrs. Farley lived in a neatly kept frame two-flat in the middle of our block on Maplewood Avenue. I remember it was a blue-grey color with white trim. The top floor had a porch. It was a tidy two-flat and I believe I remember a garden. Many of us had gardens in our Chicago city urban neighborhood. Most families grew vegetables. Some had beautiful, immaculately maintained flower gardens. Most of us had 25 foot lots — a small yard in front and a bigger yard in the back. If there was an empty lot with no house built on it, we would refer to it as a prairie.
The neighborhood kids would run around and play in the unkempt prairies. Mrs. Farley was like every other old lady on the block. She wore a house dress and a hair net and had an old lady shopping cart trailing behind her as she walked down the very long city block of Maplewood. Maplewood was an odd block as it was nearly two blocks long from corner to corner. Mrs. Farley lived right in the middle.
The odd thing about Mrs. Farley was she was the only Black person in Brighton Park in the 1970s. She rented to a single Black woman upstairs. A woman I knew was a nurse. I would see the nurse walking the very long block home in her white nurse's uniform and her flat rubber-soled sensible shoes. I never spoke to her and didn't know how I knew she was a nurse. Mrs. Farley's niece and nephew would come to visit. It was then the neighborhood kids went to play with Marcus and Marla. Marcus and Marla were teenagers and I was less than ten. I don't know how I knew they were coming. The kids would run up and down the block, excited when they arrived. They were new kids to play with, and they were teenagers! One day Marla showed up with a newborn. I don't even remember her being pregnant or if I had a concept of what it was to be pregnant. I just remember one day we saw Marcus, Marla and the baby, a welcome new playmate. We squealed with laughter as we passed him around, a baby boy of about six months, and played with the curly hair sprouting from his head.
Mrs. Farley would sit on the porch chatting with the other old ladies. They would watch their properties and make sure we didn't run on their lawns. We would be yelled at fiercely if we did. Keeping an immaculate house was a source of pride in our working-class neighborhood. The Polish ladies would scrub their sidewalks on their hands and knees with steel brushes, many times just wearing a bra and a skirt. We never asked them about it, although we thought it was peculiar. If anyone mentioned it, we were told, "it's hot out and it's just like a bathing suit." The men were often shirtless or wearing a white tank T-shirt while they worked. That never seemed strange. I grew to accept it.
The 70s was a time where racial equity was talked about often. Black TV shows and commercials were touting Black is Beautiful. There were dialogue and debate about how Black people should be addressed. Negro? Black? Colored? African American? One day the old ladies sitting on the porch chatting just asked Mrs. Farley straight out. "What would you like to be called?" We never, ever discussed Mrs. Farley's race. Although she was an oddity living in a White community. It was just there, neither good nor bad. It just was. Perhaps the message of the day brought about the conversation. Mrs. Farley seemed to be pleased. I remember the soft smile on her face as she responded, "I'd like to be called Black."
The other old ladies giggled with relief as they all agreed Black would be the term if there was ever a reason to describe Mrs. Farley's race. As she left the afternoon chat I remember my friend's grandmother in her house dress and hair net chuckling at her bravery in asking the question. "Hey" she proclaimed, "when I want to know something I just ask." This grandmother was kind of rogue. She would let us have a sip of a whiskey drink, eat candy and read steamy romance novels to 'teach us about life". She was fun to be around.
In the 90s now I was a teenager. I was struck by the unusualness of this Black woman living west of Western Avenue in Chicago where no other Black people lived. Unfortunately, I would hear about the line. Halsted was once the line but as I grew up. Western was the line. We were three blocks west of Western. While Bridgeport, the neighborhood we originated from, was an enclave east of Halsted. Bridgeport was a world within itself. Italians, Irish and Lithuanians lived there and in certain sections. Bridgeport was insular. I left when I was three and still remember the community and culture of living there.
I remember moving to our 3-flat frame house in Brighton Park with a lot next door with nine trees. I remember being in a station wagon watching a ketchup bottle bounce, not knowing we were moving but feeling a sense of excitement. I remember we would live on the first floor, not a three-floor walk-up. I remember my mother had big dreams for this house but my father wouldn't have any of it. He pronounced the house would stay the way it was and there would be no changes or upgrades. We lived very simply, not in a tidy house like Mrs. Farley.
In the 90s, I asked my Mom if anyone mentioned an unlikely Black woman who lived in the middle of the block. She said they did. She said that the neighbors remarked that Mrs. Farley was a nice woman and a nurse lived upstairs. My mother said she figured it would be okay because she was nice and she was a woman. My mother would always seek the other mothers and women in the community for solidarity. It was likely a reprieve against their husbands who would make proclamations like 'this house will stay the way it is,' and it just did.
One day the old ladies on the porch asked Mrs. Farley why she lived on our block. Mrs. Farley explained she was one of first residents on Maplewood Avenue, back when the block was all prairie. She replied "I didn't know all White people were going to move in.”
I was given a copy of Publish Your Knowledge by Vilius Stanislovaitis in exchange for my honest review. The book is written in a nice, straightforward style. The wisdom is freely shared and there are many quotable pieces of advice that will help anyone that wants to self-publish. I liked comparing yourself to yesterday vs comparing yourself to others and not setting your expectations too high or too low. The book is so loaded with practical advice, the reader can start implementing the tips right away. No need to wait until the end of the book. There is value throughout. I give this book an enthusiastic five star review. It's the best I've read on the topic.
I was given a complimentary copy of The Broken Contract in exchange for my honest review. This book is very well written and thoroughly researched. There were several forward-thinking ideas including innovation agencies, special criminal sanctions for abuse of power, parallel competitive departments requiring them to compete for talent, and secondment assignments. The thorough citation that constituents are not represented is eye-opening. Examples of public abuse were disturbing and well-documented.
I received a copy of The Money Hackers in exchange for my honest review. The Money Hackers clearly summarizes the whirlwind of the financial transformation we have experienced in the last 15 years and as it states 'changed the narrative of banking'. While big banks didn't quite know what was happening, entrepreneurial fintech companies ate their lunch, while hopefully, creating a true, accessible financial democracy. This book is an informative and engaging read. It clearly defined and summarized new financial technical developments, including bitcoin and blockchain technology, in simple terms.
Since we are giving out a form of UBI with the stimulus package I thought I'd read The War on Normal People to find out what the theory of UBI is all about. It's as if Andrew Yang took every social problem I've witnessed over the last 30 years, packaged it, presented it back to me with an explanation -- and a solution. I'm very grateful. He should've been given more acknowledgment as a presidential candidate. He's a young man - perhaps he'll run again? We need Andrew Yang's voice, his heart, and his action in this world. I'm grateful for this book and the perspective.
I enjoyed The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes a lot. I agree with other reviewers, I especially appreciated learning about his brother, Jazz musician, Chris Howes who rebuilt his life after a stint in prison and hope to see him perform one day. I connected with Lewis most when he was vulnerable. Through the book, I discovered the podcast and mostly enjoy it. I can feel when Lewis slips from authenticity. He seems to have been bitten by the "wealth" bug and that is unfortunate. How much is enough? I'll be unfollowing his email list because they are thinly veiled sales pitches. I just attended a 'webinar' that I had to sign up for and it was obviously pre-recorded. The webinar didn't deliver on the promise of the information it stated it would share. I guess that's harsh, 10 steps were in the 1 hour and 30 min webinar but it wasn't transparent sharing. There was a LOT of selling that had to be weeded through. So disappointing. My hope for Lewis is that he will LIVE the messages, reach the people he is supposed to reach and be happy with enough.
The answer is 'maybe'. One advantage restaurants and Chefs have is a built in audience. If you choose to write a book you can market it online or at your restaurant. You'll have the ability to connect more deeply with your patrons. It could be additional swag in your online store. It might also serve as a tool used to attract potential investors demonstrating that you have a marketable process and a sound business methodology. A book will capture your history at a point and time. It may set the stage for more stories and future books to come. Lastly, consider writing a book if you think it would be fun. There's great art in cook books and telling the stories of restaurants and the hospitality businesses. Don't write a book if you think it will be a big revenue producer because it likely will not be. A published book will document your history and enhance your brand.
If you choose to publish a book there's never been an easier time to get your message to market for relatively little cost. Gone are the days where someone with a message had to pitch to a publisher, hoping to get selected.
What are the advantages to being accepted by a publisher? There's a cred factor. Publishers endorse your work and also have a access and audience reach. Your book will be found a public library which is really great.
If you choose to self-publish there are many avenues to choose from. Your book can be carried on Amazon.com creating a broad reach. While you won't boast the prestige of being promoted by a traditional publisher, if there's money to be made, you will keep more of it.
Some self-publishing houses are quite generous to the authors and offer several services of traditional publishing houses. Independent Publisher's Group is one example, their business model contends they make money when you make money.
What should you budget in time and money for your book? I know it's frustrating to always say 'it depends' but if you're willing to do the heavy lifting yourself with copy, layout and photos a budget of less than $500 is fair. If you want to save time, by relying on pros to create a showpiece to record your history and use in promotions for years to come, $10,000 to $15,000 is a great place to start. For turnaround time estimate three months on the low end and be aware of scope creep by drafting a book that will take a year or longer to produce.
If you'd like to explore creating a book and can work within the ranges quoted above:
If being a book author is right for you, after you're holding the finished product in your hand or admiring it on the device of your choice, then the need to promote comes in. Use all the social media channels you are using today to advance the sales of your book.
Should you write a book? Don't ask me. I'm biased. I'm a writer and can't get enough of books, especially industry and culinary books. If it suits your brand and you think it would be fun, definitely take the time to capture your history and share it with the world.
After the worldwide pandemic is all over I hope that we never go back.
Alicia Dale is a strategic thinking Creative that understands the power of words to influence, change and build new infrastructures. This Blog is to capture ideas that have no where else to go at this very moment. Who knows how they will be developed? Or where they will go? For now they are sparkles of light easily stored where I can search and find them when they call my name again.