Shades Of Romance Magazine: Tell us a little about you the person and the writer?
Yolanda Callegari Brooks: I'm a wife--my husband and I recently celebrated ten years of marriage--and the mother of three children, a daughter and two sons. My day job is that of a substitute teacher. This past June, I resigned from teaching full-time so I could devote more time to the promoting and marketing my debut novel FIRST LOVE. I enjoy reading, writing and listening to music. My goal as a writer is to share stories that inspire, empower and entertain. I desire to create characters that readers can relate to because like them, they cry, they laugh, they hurt, they overcome, they fall down, and rise again. Through it all, their hope is in God whose love is unfailing.
SORM: Tell us about your book?
BROOKS: Simply put, FIRST LOVE is a story I wish I could have read years ago. It tells the story of a young woman named Amani, a high school senior, and the passion and pain she experiences the first time she falls in love. As a result of her relationship with her boyfriend, her relationship with her mother, her six older sisters, and her best friend are impacted. Most importantly, the commitment she has made to celibacy and to her faith is challenged when Marley, a star college basketball player, decides he no longer wants to abstain. Amani comes to that proverbial fork in the road: Save it for marriage or just do it?
SORM: Why did you choose to self-publish?
BROOKS: I spent a couple of years trying to get "picked up" before I finally accepted that I would have to self-publish. An agent told me that there was no market for my book. Another editor told me that Amani would have to grow up before the end of the story if I wanted her assistance. Then a publisher told me that they weren't interested in publishing a series. In between, I queried about forty of the traditional Christian houses but had no offers. Because I knew FIRST LOVE was the story God had given me to tell, my husband and I decided to self-publish. We formed our own company, BOW Press aka Brooks of Water Press. I went the self-publishing route, as a last resort, though I now believe this path was predestined for me at this season in my life.
SORM: What is the most gratifying thing about self-publishing?
BROOKS: We have full control over every aspect of the marketing and promoting of FIRST LOVE. When I go out to book signings or speaking engagements, we always sell the book at a discount. We give books to the leaders of certain organizations at our discretion. We don't have to worry about anyone looking over our shoulder telling us what we can or cannot do. However, having full responsibility and limited time and resources is also one of the most difficult things about self-publishing.
SORM: What is the biggest problem you faced as a self-publisher?
BROOKS: My husband and I are in a position where we have to keep our day jobs, so our time is limited. We are also working within a small budget. These two facts make self-publishing exceptionally challenging. Also, some people equate self-publishing with substandard quality so there is also that stigma. I made it a point to have my manuscript both line- and copyedited because I wanted my novel to be able to compete with the books in my genre that are being published via traditional means.
SORM: Do you want to publish other people?
BROOKS: Right now, I'm the only author whom BOW Press is handling. However, we are open to going in whatever direction God leading us. I do know that we would only publish fiction and non-fiction that promote the gospel either directly or subtly.
SORM: How do you decide what conferences to attend?
BROOKS: I haven't attended many writers' conferences. Last year, I attended the Black Writers Alliance Conference in Dallas and the Black Writers on Tour held in Los Angeles. This year, I've only attended the Black Writers on Tour. I guess I select conferences based on economic feasibility. In other words, if I can afford it and feel that the conference would prove extremely beneficial, I attend. Right now, I'm very focused on promoting and marketing my novel so that takes precedence above all else.
SORM: Have other writers assisted you, in what ways?
BROOKS: My first story editor was none other than Victoria Christopher Murray, the best-selling author of TEMPTATION and JOY. My second editor was Maxine Thompson, who has her own literary services company in addition to being a renowned author herself. She's self-published THE EBONY TREE, NO POCKETS IN A SHROUD and A PLACE CALLED HOME. Several other authors have proved invaluable in the sharing of information via the Black Writers Alliance. A few of them are Jamellah Ellis, Brian Egeston, and Brandon Massey. Marilynn Griffith, whose upcoming novel is RHYTHMS OF GRACE, has assisted my husband and me with our marketing material.
SORM: How did you choose a photographer/designer for your cover?
BROOKS: My husband Bernard oversaw that process. The photographer, Anthony Burries, is the brother of one of his co-workers and found our graphic designer via the Internet. Then his coworker, Parry Haavelar, ended up pulling all the pieces together to create the perfect cover.
SORM: How did you get an Art Director? Did that person design your cover only or also the interior?
BROOKS: Our graphic artist mainly did the interior design. My husband's friend and co-worker Parry created the final artwork for the cover then forwarded it to our graphic artist for correct formatting.
SORM: Did you assemble a team to work with you (i.e., editor, printer, publicists, etc.)?
BROOKS: I lined up the team for the editorial part. Victoria Christopher Murray and Maxine Thompson were my story editors. Tia Shabazz, the founder of the Black Writers Alliance, was my copy editor. My husband worked with the printers. During the month of June, we utilized the services of Tonya Howard of Superb Publicity but when I stopped working during the summer, we had to cutback so we opted to handle publicity ourselves. Each of these talented professionals helped me to get from manuscript to publication.
SORM: How did you decide about the pricing of your book?
BROOKS: We priced my book after one that was the same length and in the same genre as mine. Sometimes, we feel that we may have underpriced it, but our mission is to get it into the hands of those who need it. Of course, we want to make a profit but more importantly, we want to change lives, one reader, one story, at a time.
SORM: What strategies did you decide to use to promote your book?
BROOKS: I've done a lot of local signings and we do a lot of email marketing. We've done a fundraiser at my children's school and we also have a FIRST LOVE SKIT that we've presented at gospel concerts, youth conferences, and business expos. I've also sent review copies and media kits to a few of the mea-churches across the nation. I believe word-of-mouth will take over when pastors with large congregations become supporters of my work.
SORM: What was your first book signing like?
BROOKS: My first book signing was during the FIRST LOVE Book Release Celebration that I purposely set on my birthday. I've wanted to be a writer since I was six years old. I released my debut novel on my 36th birthday. Thirty years later. It was an awesome experience I will never forget. The room was filled with family, friends, and co-workers who had come to share a memorable occasion with me. As I signed books, I marveled at how excited but comfortable I felt. My friend Charlotte reminded me that I was comfortable because I was doing what I was born to do. God made me a writer. On purpose.
SORM: What was the most unusual place your book was sold?
BROOKS: We've sold copies in a local boutique and also in the hair salon owned by one of our friends.
SORM: How did you distribute your book?
BROOKS: Our book distribution is set up with Milligan Books located in Los Angeles. Dr. Rosie Milligan is an extraordinary businesswoman whose goal is to assist self-publishers through every step of the publishing process.
SORM: How did you get your book reviewed?
BROOKS: We ask those in position to reach readers if they'd like a review copy of the novel. We also have begun asking readers to post their reviews once they've read the novel.
SORM: Did you use the Internet to promote your book, if so how?
BROOKS: We send email promo letters to book clubs and readers who may be interested in reading a novel that is both inspirational and compelling.
SORM: What books, newsletters, articles or websites were helpful to you?
BROOKS: Dan Poynter's THE SELF-PUBLISHING MANUAL, Tom and Marilyn Ross' THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING, and HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH & MARKET YOUR OWN BOOK by Mack Smith and Sara Freeman Smith were great resources to us as we begin our self-publishing journey. Those books were the main tools we consulted. In addition, I picked the brains of authors I had met via the Internet.
SORM: What advice would you give to self-publishers?
BROOKS: Firstly, get your office organized before you "give birth" to your self-published work of fiction or nonfiction. Next, secure speaking engagements to promote your work. Because I am somewhat shy, this was not one of my favorite avenues for promoting my work. However, I've recently accepted that what God has given me to share is bigger than me. It's not about me. II Corinthians 4:7 says, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." I'm just a vessel He has purposely chosen to use in spite of my frailties and imperfections. Lastly, never give up, never surrender.
SORM: How can readers reach you (mail, email, website)?
BROOKS: A couple of ways: They can surf over to www.yolandacallegaribrooks.com, drop me a line at BOW Press, 3553 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 301, Long Beach, CA 90807, or give me a buzz at 310.878.6070. Join the FIRST LOVE Revolution. I guarantee you'll never forget your FIRST LOVE experience.
SHADES OF ROMANCE MAGAZINE WOULD LIKE TO THANK MS. BROOKS FOR THIS INTERVIEW. WE WISH YOU MANY BLESSINGS WITH YOUR WRITING.