Last Minute Places to Give & Get a 2012 Tax Deduction Before The Year Ends

Donate to Room to Read - peoplewhowrite

Room to Read works with communities and local governments in Africa and Asia to develop literacy skills. Donate at

You still have a few hours to give to the charity of your choice before 2012 ends. Give, and increase your 2012 tax deduction. Here are a few writerly ones to consider:

Room to Read: Founded in Nepal in 2000, Room to Read is now a global organization that establishes school libraries, builds schools, publishes local-language children’s books, trains teachers on literacy education, and supports girls to complete secondary school in Africa and Asia. Learn More / Donate.

United for Libraries: United for Libraries is a national network of enthusiastic library supporters who believe in the importance of libraries as the social and intellectual centers of communities and campuses. The mission of United for Libraries is to support citizens who govern, promote, advocate, and fundraise for all types of libraries. Learn MoreDonate.

Girls Write Now: Founded in 1998, New York-based Girls Write Now is the first organization in the country with a writing and mentoring model exclusively for girls. Fifteen years later, they’ve grown from a grassroots collective into a nationally-recognized organization with a robust staff and a highly-structured corps of dedicated volunteers.  Girls Write Now has been recognized twice by the White House, The New York TimesNBC Nightly News, the MacArthur Foundation, and the global branding firm Siegel+Gale. In 2012, Youth, I.N.C. honored GWN as one of the most enterprising nonprofits improving the lives of New York City youth. Learn More / Donate.

Worldreader: Worldreader is a US and European non-profit whose mission is to make digital books available to children in the developing world so millions of people can improve their lives. As of November 2012, Worldreader has put over 245, 000 e-books into the hands of 1,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa. Those children now read more, read better, and are improving their communities. Learn More / Donate.

The Office of Letters and Light: The Office of Letters and Light organizes events, including National Novel Writing Month, where kids and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to reach their creative potential. When you donate to the Office of Letters and Light, you help bring free creative writing programs to nearly 350,000 kids and adults in approximately 100 countries, 2,000 classrooms, 200 libraries, and 500 NaNoWriMo regions every year. Learn More / Donate.

viBe Theater Experience: Founded in 2002, viBe provides a safe space for girls (ages 13-19) to write, create and perform collaborative performances about real-life issues as they express their unique voices, foster meaningful relationships, take on challenges, and gain the self-confidence to succeed personally, socially, and academically. viBe’s free programs and productions inspire teenage girls to work together and direct, publish, record, and perform in art forms including theater, dance, poetry, and music. Learn More / Donate.

MediaBistro has a list of worthy charities from 2011 that you should also check out. And of, course, just ’cause you’re a writer doesn’t necessarily mean you only want to support literacy-related organizations. I am personally passionate about OrphanAID Africa, a non-profit based in Ghana that helps poor families keep their children, and provides loving families for abandoned children. We currently have an IndieGogo campaign up to raise money for the kids’ school fees. Learn more about OrphanAID Africa / Donate.

A Word of Encouragement: Writer Raises Over $580,000 on Kickstarter

Ryan North's To Be or Not to Be: That is the Adventure

courtesy Ryan North/Kickstarter

Cartoonist Ryan North raised $580,905 on Kickstarter to fund his Hamlet-inspired book To Be or Not to Be: That is the Adventure. The sum, over $560,000 more than his $20,000 goal, represents the most funded publishing project ever. Click here to check out and soak up some New Year inspiration from his pitch.

HuffPo Writes Up Publishing's 15 WTF Moments of 2012

In 2012, the Pulitzer Prize Jury could not agree on a winner - peoplewhowrite

In 2012, the Pulitzer Prize Jury could not agree on a winner – the last time this happened was 1977

From bookstores refusing to stock Amazon-published print titles to the Pulitzer Prize Jury failing to agree on a Fiction winner, The Huffington Post‘s 2012 year end slideshow reminds what a storied year Publishing had. Click here to review.

Goodreads Became More Important to Writers in 2012

When it comes to online venues for books Amazon dominates the conversation, but Goodreads, with its sole focus being books rather than e-commerce, could arguably be more important to authors. In 2012, Goodreads grew from 6.5 million to 13 million members. Members contributed 20 million book reviews to the site; and members were active in  Goodreads Book Clubs with one boasting 7,000 members; and groups, including an Author Feedback Group and a Librarian Group. Check out the infographic Goodreads created celebrating their year by the numbers.

2012 Goodreads infographic - peoplewhowrite

The Top 10 Publishing Companies By Revenue

The World's Top 10 Publishers by Revenue_peoplewhowrite

Back in June Publishers Weekly posted a chart featuring the world’s 50 largest publishers based on 2011 revenue. Here’s a repost of the top 10. It’ll be interesting to see where Random House falls on the 2012 list after their amazing Fifty ShadesGone Girl year. Check out the full list here.

Author Petra Lewis Wrote Her Novel Trilogy to Address Gun Violence

Petra Lewis is the author of The Ham Novels Trilogy - peoplewhowrite

Author Petra Lewis

Every book has three stories: The story between the covers; the story behind the author’s process; and the story of how it got published. The story behind how Petra Lewis wrote the first book of her novel trilogy The Sons and Daughters of Hamand why she ultimately decided to self-publish it could be books unto themselves. But more on that later.

After nearly a decade of trying to get the trilogy in readers’ hands, the first of the series became available for pre-order this month. Borne out of Lewis’ despair and frustration after two acts of violence and the gun-related death of a young man she knew, Book I: A Requiem follows a Brooklyn-based family staggering under the grief of their gunned-down son/brother. From December 2012 through December 31, 2013, Lewis says she will donate $3.00 from every print order and $1.50 from every e-book order to Street Corner Resources; the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center’s Save Our Streets Crown Heights (SOS) program; and Families of Victims Against Violence  founded by Reverend Herbert Daughtry — three organizations with a history of addressing gun violence.

In addition, visitors to Lewis’ site can submit the names and birth and death dates of loved ones killed through violence. She will memorialize the names in Book I’s cover liners or on a dedicated page. No purchase of the book is necessary to submit names.

Lewis says she has always wanted the Trilogy to inspire discussion about and change regarding gun control. “Of course I had no idea that the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown would coincide with our originally planned December 17th launch for the campaign and website. When we finally did launch on Christmas Eve, it was in an altered landscape — one in which America seems to have genuinely reached a tipping point on gun violence,” she explains her press release. “I pray and hope this watershed moment on gun control is finally real — not simply a moment of outrage.”

What is the Ham Novel Trilogy about?
The Sons and Daughters of Ham is the story of a Caribbean-American family, An African American young man, violence, choice, and destiny. The books’ concept started when I experienced three acts of violence in my early 20s — the final one being the murder of the teenage son of family friends.  This led me to question: “Why is it so easy for Black and Brown young men to kill each other — and where did this mindset come from?”

Strangely, in college I had developed an obsession with the murders of young urban kids I [read about] in the papers, and would often clip the articles. Then that violence actually hit home.  In the decades since that young man’s murder, I personally know of at least ten people — directly, or a couple of degrees away — who have been murdered.  The brother of an ex-boyfriend.  The brother of one of my sister’s ex-boyfriends.  My aunt’s long-time boyfriend had two nephews who were gunned down in the same shooting — and if they hadn’t pushed their sister out of the way, she would  have died, too.

I’d be having normal conversations with people I know, and somehow it would suddenly come out that their child or a relative had been murdered. This had become like a new kind of urban parlor conversation, the fact that these murders had become the “new normal,” with their revelation taking place in the course of mundane, everyday affairs — like asking: “Do you want a cup of tea, and one lump or two?”

I dare to speculate that the vast majority of Black and Brown America knows someone who has been murdered, or knows someone who knows someone.  And socioeconomic status does not matter — I am saying this despite the fact that I live a middle- to upper-middle-class lifestyle, which one would think would have insulated me from knowledge of, or direct experience with this violence.   It hasn’t.

How long have you been trying to get it published, and why has it taken so long? 
I think I started writing what became the trilogy around 1994, because those three acts of violence that inspired it took place in 1993.  The trilogy started as my Master’s thesis.  I entered the Columbia MFA program in 1994, but did not graduate until 1998… I had to take a year off in between to earn money to cover my second year of tuition.  It’s a two-year program.  The rest of the time was spent trying to complete my thesis in the time allotted once formal class work had ended.

Before formally graduating, I signed up with an agent at ICM.  At the time I was friends with Danzy Senna, the author of Caucasia, and she was being represented by Binky Urban at ICM, who also represented Toni Morrison.  Incidentally, it was reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye… that made me want to be an author.

Binky didn’t sign me on, but referred me to someone who had been an ICM junior agent, and was now a full-fledged agent.  He went on to be a legendary literary agent — the kind so powerful, he was written about in gossip columns from coast to coast.  He was a very nice guy, but making serious head-turning power moves.

I had gotten my first full-time job on Wall Street as a senior financial writer, and thought it would be a short pit stop for me — a year or two on Wall Street at most.  In the meantime I started writing the book in earnest.  We don’t have time here for all the soap operatic twists and turns in between, but let’s just say I went from that ICM agent to an agent at the now defunct LJK Literary agency, founded by Larry Kirshbaum, who used to head Time Warner Books, which dominated the book charts for a long time.  Larry is now at Amazon.

Anyway, regarding delays, on my end, initially I struggled with finishing the book.  I would write a couple of chapters and give it to my first agent to read.  I was trying to sell an incomplete book so I could leave Wall Street and fulfill my fiction-writer dreams.  Sample chapters work for selling nonfiction, but for fiction it’s largely a no no — unless you’re some kind of freakish prodigy.  I’d finished a complete draft of Book I of my novel with my first agent, but it was the second who started shopping it around.

We kept getting replies back that it was well written, but really dark subject matter — because of the murders.  An editor at Grand Central Publishing (which used to be Time Warner books) wanted to acquire it — but could not get her whole team to buy in, so the opportunity faded to black.  I was devastated, and hid the manuscript away in the proverbial drawer.

I also tried at an alternative startup small press venture — half the editorial team involved wanted to acquire my first book, the remainder passed, and overruled.  I think that venture only published one author and has since folded.  So the issue may not have been my book. My second agent loved the book and was really supportive, but I was so frustrated by the entire experience, I “broke up” with him, and have been agentless since.

The Sons and Daughters of Ham_ Book I Requiem_by Petra Lewis_peoplewhowrite

Why did you ultimately decide to self-publish? 
I had still been toying with the idea of giving mainstream publishing a final go, but after doing a crowdfunding campaign in the summer of 2012, I decided that mainstream publishing was way too clumsy for me.  I’m an artist with a very strong entrepreneurial bent, and a corporate background. The idea of launching my own publishing enterprise really appealed to me.

My last corporate job was Head of Internal Communications for the Asset Management division of a top-10 global investment bank.  There were a lot of changes afoot since spring 2012, and I knew regime change was impending, and that, as a result, the possibility of my being laid off was strong.  I was right.  December 31, 2012 is/was my final day.  Since spring, when I was out on medical leave, I had started laying down the groundwork for starting Bookstar Business Ghostwriting + Development.  My business partner on that, Julie, the owner of an award-wining boutique publishing firm is also helping me with all cyber and publishing aspects of launching my novel—from website, to printing, to e-book.

I feel like I’ve become my client — as we plan to offer similar services to entrepreneurs who want to self-publish, and my own launch has given me a stronger sense of the best practices for our offering to that client base.  I mentioned to Julie that, down the road, we should consider Bookstar Creative, which would handle things like fiction.

How/where can people get a copy of the Trilogy?
You can pre-order the first trilogy novel, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem via my website, The book formally launches in May 2013.  At that time, people can still go through my site, but the formal purchase and processing will be handled by Amazon.

Are you just trying to jump on the Newtown Tragedy bandwagon by offering to donate sales proceeds to gun control charities? 
No, not at all.  The idea of donating a portion of the proceeds from the publication of my book is one that I had since the early ‘90s when I began undertaking this trilogy.  Over the decades since, I became an armchair anti-violence and gun-control activist.  On Sundays I would listen to community talk shows like The Open Line, which used to be on KISS FM, but is now on WBLS.  There I learned the names of all the key anti-violence activists who were doing the hard, real groundwork throughout the Tri-State area.

The key issue each of them faced was the same: funding.  Their varying methodologies were effective, but they needed money not just to keep their work going, but to expand their platforms.  My book campaign slogan is Save Lives –“Literally.”

Another idea I’ve had since the ’90s that I integrated into the campaign, and very dear to my heart, is that anyone can submit the names, and birth and death dates, of any loved ones who died through violence, who I’ll then memorialize in the book’s cover liners or on a dedicated page. No purchase of the book is necessary to submit names.  People can submit the names on the “Memorial Pages” section of my website,

You’ve experienced highs and lows in the industry — securing two high-powered agents, then difficulty getting your books sold and ultimately having to part ways with said agents. What has the experience taught you about the publishing industry? 
That it sucks — is that an answer?  Again, the word that comes to mind is “clumsy” — what I’m interested in is nimble.  I also think that in the DIY, cyber age we’re living in, there’s no more room for scepters and king or queen makers.

I recently learned this week that Fifty Shades of Grey was originally self-published before being picked up by Random House.  It’s like, for mainstream publishing, there’s only room for one or two elephant behemoth books per year per house, like Fifty Shades of Grey, and all the remaining books are akin to dung.

On the flip-side, Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing darling who sold a million+ e-books before getting a lucrative, conventional publishing deal, said she went for the mainstream publishing deal because DIY meant she was spending all her time on marketing instead of actual writing.

Based on my own launch, I can attest to how time consuming it is — but it’s also incredibly fulfilling.  If you’re not going to have major marketing muscle behind you or a huge advance from a mainstream publisher, then being with a mainstream house no longer makes sense.  You get pennies on the dollar, and you’re still expected to go out there and get sweaty shilling your own book.  I’m creative, a design freak, and have a very strong point of view on just about everything, so self-publishing is a perfect fit for me — it’s very hands on.

What has the experience taught you about yourself?
For this particular trilogy, I did a lot of research in the ’90s, including interviewing parents whose children had been murdered who had spoken to no one formally about the experience… [who] agreed to let me interview them.  It’s wanting to honor those parents that has kept me going, even through so many obstacles.

The epidemic of urban murders for the past three decades+ has been an American tragedy hiding in plain sight.  But in general, now that I’m self-publishing and launching my ghostwriting business, I need no motivation to keep me going — I absolutely love what I do!

What’s next for you as a writer?
Book III, Baby!  As I said in one of the videos for my crowdfunding campaign, Book III will be all about my inner dude.  Even though I’m against gun violence in the real world, ironically, I’m a huge action film fan — and love directors like Scorsese, John Woo and Takeshi Kitano.  I’m also obsessed with Kurosawa.  I want to create a complex, testosterone- and action-driven book primarily told from a male perspective in which there are twists and turns and betrayal.  Actually being able to successfully pull off that kind of book is very frightening to me — something I find totally delightful.

The Changing Role of the Library

Amidst the seismic shifts taking place in the publishing industry, the role of the library has evolved.  Today’s New York Times posits that libraries are borrowing from the bookstore model, stocking their shelves with popular titles like Fifty Shades of Grey to keep pace with reading trends — at the expense of maintaining their cultural position as gatekeepers of literary excellence.

The piece goes on to say libraries are adopting this strategy to hold on to their relevance in the digital age. As bookstores (chain and independent) cede market share to Amazon, with many being forced to shutter, libraries are picking up the slack, hoping to be the free alternative to bookstores and Starbucks for readers and researchers.

I really hope this strategy works to keep libraries solvent.

In the past few years, libraries across the country and around the world have been assailed by/threatened with devastating cuts. In Troy, Michigan, the library had to resort to a fake book burning party to save itself. In New York, the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg nearly chopped $96 million from the budget — a move that would have disabled the library’s ability to stay open at least five days a week. In London, multiple libraries have had to close their doors for good including the Kenal Rise Public Library which Mark Twain unveiled in 1900. Just last month, staff at the British Library planned to strike against austerity measures.

Publishing industry changes notwithstanding, our local libraries have had to pick up the slack for a lot of social issues the government has failed to prioritize. Libraries have acted as After School Programs/babysitting for latchkey kids, daytime shelters for the homeless, and de facto mental institutions. Clearly, when the stone of change drops on one sector of society/business, the ripples are felt everywhere eventually in good and bad ways.

What’s important with respect to libraries is that we help them stay open even as we advocate for laws/social spending measures that alleviate the pressures libraries face. We need to support libraries’ transition into the digital age. Because, in spite of all the reports that show more Americans consuming their reading materials digitally, the truth is not everyone has a Kindle/iPad/Nook/computer. Not everyone has 24-hour internet access.

Outside of the library, there is no free place the public can congregate for the sole purpose of reading, writing, and researching. Obviously, as writers, but also as readers and citizens, libraries are priceless no matter what our situation.

The Way We Were: What Medieval Writers Had to Know

Medieval Writers had to know how to manufacture books - via a summer 2012 exhibit at the Helsinki National Library (peoplewhowrite)

From a summer 2012 exhibit at the Helsinki National Library

This summer, the Helsinki National Library had an informative exhibit about the history of writing. Reading about all that writers in the Middle Ages needed to know is kind of analogous to all that writers need to know and do today. Whether traditionally published or self-published, authors need to be as hands-on as possible to shape the final book/e-book product and move units.

“Besides being able to read and write,” the placard posted above reads, “a writer had to be familiar with a book’s entire manufacturing process — from the pastures of the animals whose hide was used to make parchment to bookshop shelves.” Middle Ages scribes also had to hand-process all the pieces that came together to form a book.

The exhibit asserted, “The medieval scribes would already know our present-day literary solutions inside out… The form of many of our modern literary interfaces — from books to tablet computers — faithfully resemble the medieval book.”

Click here for more tidbits from the exhibit.

Black Book Clubs Offer Authors Vital Sales & Promotion Channel

The African Women's Book Club of Boston read Powder Necklace

Me with the African Women’s Book Club of Boston, October 2010

Black authors — new and established — can find it uniquely difficult to get coverage or exposure of their work. African-American interest publications can only cover so much, and many mainstream publications just don’t cover black literature unless it’s written by Toni Morrison. Likewise, book stores tend to stock black writers in African-American sections versus general reading shelves which limits their exposure to new readers. In this landscape, black book clubs are a particularly valuable vehicle for African-American authors.

In addition to engendering a personal connection between readers and writers, book clubs are a vital channel for authors working to build awareness of their work. A recent Pew Report confirms what we already know: people discover new books based on recommendations from friends, family, and co-workers, and with book clubs composed of members that share personal/professional connections, they offer an opportunity to create exponential word of mouth across a fan base most likely to enjoy your book.

As a result, authors and publishers compete to get on club reading lists even as book clubs leverage their power to either generate revenue, or otherwise stimulate the industry so the next generation won’t lose black literature due to poor sales and promotion.

Lynda Johnson, co-founder of Go On Girl! Book Club told me, “We’ve seen a lot of the black imprints disappearing from the publishing companies, and, you know, although the say they want it to be mainstream, it’s not treated as mainstream. You go in the bookstores, you still can’t find as much play for books by black authors unless you’re noted… You’re not finding the new voices.”

Check out the full story on