After a broken ankle immobilized her in 1926, Margaret Mitchell began developing a manuscript that would become Gone With the Wind, ultimately published in 1936. The success of Gone With the Wind made her an instant celebrity and earned a Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Mitchell, and the famed film adaptation released three years afterward. Over 30 million copies of Mitchell’s Civil War masterpiece have been sold and translated into 27 languages. Tragedy struck in 1949 when Mitchell was struck by a car, leaving Gone With the Wind as her only novel.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Mitchell experienced tragic twists and turns; with the loss of her mother in 1918 and then four years later and four months after her wedding, her first husband abandoned the marriage. She wrote nearly 130 articles for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine during that troubled time. By 1925 with her first marriage officially annulled, Mitchell married John Robert Marsh who encouraged her writing during her recovery from a broken ankle in 1926. By 1929, she nearly finished her thousand page Civil War and Reconstruction era story – A romantic novel, written from a Southern woman’s point of view, steeped in the history of the South and the tragic outcome of war.
Rest of the story lies in what happened next…
However, the grand manuscript remained tucked away until 1935 until she reluctantly out of fear showed it to a traveling book editor, who visited Atlanta in search of new material, and the rest is history.
What motivated the book editor to leave his ivory-tower office in New York City?
Southern authors during the decades since earned a warmer reception from the dominant publishing houses as the appeal for Southern stories grew.
What Southern stories rest on your bookshelves at home as a testimony to their lasting imprint on our lives?
How is it Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Erskine Caldwell, James Dickey, Pat Conroy and the legacy of so many other great Southern authors have endured long after they left us? And, today Southern authors like Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Kathryn Stockett, Jeswyn Ward, Charles Frazier, Greg Iles, Charles Martin, Rick Bragg, and even John Grisham are still securing their legacy for future generations.
Let’s not forget the endless stream of fresh literary voices beckoning us with new Southern-laced literary works that supply the timeless and borderless demand for memorable flawed heroes, victims, and villains depicted in colorful Southern settings dealing with 21st-Century challenges and changes.
What constitutes a great Southern story?
First of all, truth be told, I don’t know how to write the next best-selling Southern Novel. Of course, if I did happen to know how, I’d be too busy writing it and more than likely have my eyes cast on writing at least three. Three best-selling Southern novels would leave the kind of legacy that any writer would only dream about. But at least I know one when I see one. That’s because really great best-selling Southern novels are discovered, not written. In fact, none of the aforementioned authors began writing the next great Southern novel. They merely wrote what resided within them to write.
The indelible mark of a Southern Author
Being reared in the South leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul where inspiration and motivation sprouts from fertile memories, the good and the bad, to write compelling stories. Aspiring writers with souls stained and strained growing up in the South cannot write anything else worthwhile. Southern stories come to life experientially. An author might learn the mechanics of creative writing, but no classroom can replicate growing up and experiencing life in the South. There’s no better fodder for storytelling than lending an ear to the tall-tales of folks spinning yarns in the South. We may hear such tales while eating dinner, attending church, getting a haircut at a local barbershop, or at a beauty parlor for the women-folk, and let’s not neglect sitting on a neighbor’s porch.
The Southern Author Is Too Polite to Name Names
I have learned one thing in my sixty-eight years, fiction is just the truth and reality wearing a mask and being stretched a might to be more palatable, and often more plausible. You see, more than not, the truth just ain’t as believable as the tall-tales that follow.
Now there are certain trademarks of any Southern story, they revolve around food, family, friendships, faith, and football. Right off, if any story fails to mention the sipping, swallowing, or gulping of sweet tea, consider it suspect right away. Also, in the South, a coke may not mean a Coca-Cola, and whiskey didn’t originate here, but it was perfected here. In fact, the tales of Cooter Brown’s perpetual drunkenness is a Southern-rooted legend.
Grits, gravy, and greens are menu staples, morning, noon and night. Anything else worth eating is also usually fried. Peaches, pecans, and peanuts are the foundation of many epic desserts too.
In the South, Change Arrives Reluctantly
It may be the 21st-Century, however, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” are not derisive retorts but words of respect to our elders. Boys and grown men instinctively grab the door for a woman or young lady. Now, that’s not saying Southern gals don’t have spunk. Lord, just rile a Southern girl and you’ll learn right quick they invented sass. They also know, you know, you likely deserved it.
The 21st-Century Southern woman exited the confines of the kitchen and no longer remains in the shadows cast by men. She forges her own identity in society and dares men to catch up to her.
Some Traditions Linger
Of course, when someone approaches on a back road, there will be a casual exchange of raised fingers atop their respective steering wheels. It’s an evolution of the tradition that declares in the South no one stays a stranger for long. Handshakes and friendly howdies transform strangers into friends whether visiting or just passing through. What has changed is the inclusion of women in those customary exchanges.
But Some Traditions Remain Steadfast in the South
Last but not least, it’s downright hard to distinguish faith from football conversations. They both can offer the same fervor. In the South, the Lord’s Day is Sunday and everyone agrees that God graces every church, small or large, but Saturday, God sports our team colors, sits on our side of the field and favors our victories.
Now there’s a heap more we could wrangle back and forth about on this subject, but I reckon you’ve got the gist. We may not always plainly define it, but we sure know when we have read a great Southern novel. When we come to the last page and close a good southern novel, we feel sad because it ended.
T. M. Brown
First published May 2020, Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest, is the third book in the Shiloh Mystery Series. Re-released March 2022. Theo just can’t seem to avoid landing smack dab in the middle of life-altering threats and conflicts that shatter the peace and tranquility of lil’ ol’ Shiloh. Some family trees get shaken and familiar characters face life and death decisions to protect others in the next story.
Watch for Fifth Anniversary Editions coming soon of Sanctuary & Testament!
Authors and social media–an arranged marriage benefiting one and sucking the life out of the other. One garnishes all the attention, the other screams to be heard. One, an unsated polygamist, the other, another trophy in the crowded harem. I often wonder, how might the notable, best-selling authors whose careers began long before the internet age would have faired if they launched their first novel today.
I imagine the gatekeepers prefer such thoughts go unnoticed, but I sense such thoughts exist all the same. More and more readers invest their precious time and money to be entertained but end up scratching their heads at the so-called best-sellers. When they dive deeper to discover a good read, they struggle all the more.
Vanity publishing has transformed itself into being called “independently published” thanks to KDP and Ingram who tantalize the egos of authors into believing they too can become the next bestseller. Mercenary book contests, awards, promotions are sucking even more from the lifeblood of naive, eager authors. Independent publishing likewise has morphed into hybrid publishing while disguised small publishers, often begun by frustrated authors, reap royalties earned by other unsuspecting authors. Then when the individual author figures out they cannot get a real publishing contract they create their own quirky-named publishing entity to self-publish.
In the meantime, mainstream publishers devour one another attempting to hoard what meager profit they can squeeze from each contracted author. They end up churning out cookie-cutter novels faster than Henry Ford ever imagined possible on his assembly lines. The pressure of the most popular authors must be intense. Some now turn out a new title every 3-6 months. Of course, it’s their name that sells not the story he or she hardly writes in solitude anymore.
So, what can be done? The best gatekeepers in the publishing world exist in independently-owned bookstores. They survive because of their reputation to recognize truly worthwhile books for you, their valued customers. Unlike the big internet booksellers, they cannot clutter their shelves with drivel, whether big-name published or self-published. They build trust by listening to what you find to be good books.
In the end, readers should determine by word of mouth what are the current best books to read. Mercenary marketing to bolster sales seldom works if readers feel betrayed after buying a certain new novel promoted in a glitzy ad campaign.
Therefore, I believe, a groundswell of reviews and personal referrals among friends and family urging them to get a copy of an author’s latest book offers the purest form of promotion any author should hope to receive.
I suspect a few will read this entire diatribe. If you have and have an opinion or comment, please feel free to offer it. You are encouraged to share it as well.
“Every author should remember the reason, the motivation, the muse, that stirred him or her to pen their story in the first place.”
To the everyday reader, they may mean little, if anything, but to the discerning bookseller, it may determine the extent of your relationship with them. There’s a growing swell of pushback with book retailers against Amazon/KDP. That attractive royalty rate from Amazon/KDP may, in fact, cost you lots of potential sales. Choose wisely, whether self-publishing or through a small press that takes advantage of POD production. There are two prevalent POS print options, Amazon/KDP or Ingram SPark/LSI.
Working with Ingram is necessary for selling through bookstores, which, more often than not, will not order books from Amazon/KDP. Amazon/KDP will not allow bookstores to return unsold books, something the trade has accepted for a long time and is a crucial option to independent bookstore owners. Without going too deep into the micro-economic considerations of a book retail business, floating the enormous expense of a book inventory forces book retailers to be acutely attuned to Amazon’s less than favorable retailer program. Under the best circumstances, it is not easy to make a profit in the retail bookstore marketplace. Authors should not promote their books with a blind eye to the plight of the book retailers today, thanks to Amazon.
“Learn the printing codes on the inside final page of your books for Kindle and Ingram. They are usually there, but they can be blank, making the printing source agnostic. Don’t accidentally walk into a bookstore with consignment books that show some Kindle-manufactured volumes, as marked on the final page. We wouldn’t want a homicide to occur.” (An excerpt from The Book Designer)
Your author-income depends upon not just the royalty rate but also the sales reach (volume of books sold). After you have decided upon where to publish your book, knowing how your printed book arrives on the market is now even more imperative. POD book production had gotten to be a most welcome, cost-effective means to get books printed. Quality has vastly improved and certainly reduces your upfront costs and associated risks of investing in and maintaining a book inventory. Know your publisher’s and/or your marketing strategy for getting books to readers. Convenience can cost you far more than you are led to believe.
My two-cents on the subject of POD sources
Consider Amazon as a necessary book retailer, but a retailer none-the-less. If you desire to engage the retail reach of brick-and-mortar bookstores, then understanding their profitability is paramount to building a win-win relationship. Would you walk into two competing book retailers in the same town and expect a warm reception from both store owners? Probably not. Well, Amazon is every book retailer’s primary competitor. And, Amazon/KDP printed books offer less profit for the book retailer and do not allow the retailer a book return option. Thus, if you, as the author, agree to a consignment arrangement on the backside of an author event at the store, your book will not find prime shelf space after you are long gone.
“Penny-wise, dollar foolish.”
You may have written a well-written, compelling story, and even have an eye-catching, well-conceived book cover, but no book sells itself. How you plan to promote and bring your book to market is paramount to your book’s ultimate success. What may appear upfront as profitable may more than likely prove very costly? Treat Amazon as the retailer you cannot ignore, but don’t ignore your other retail outlets and consider them as less important. Unless you have built up a huge name as an author with an enormous audience panting for your next book, your books will not sell themselves while you are glued to the world-wide-web and stuck in your comfortable chair at home.
News flash: Authors must invest in and actively engage in the marketing of their books to be successful.
POD book production is a gamechanger
I repeat–POD book production is a gamechanger and is here to stay, but do not overlook which POD printer you choose to use for your books. Amazon is a profit eating leviathan and plays both book printer/publisher and retailer, which for some may be convenient, and that is fine if that meets your book’s expectation. But, they have stirred up a lot of animosity by their voracious greed. Do not expect their retail competitors to provide you with a warm welcome if you carry into their store books printed by their most lethal competitor.
What about the reading audience? Should the reading audience care?
To all those you avid book-lovers whose money is spent in exchange for all the books that are behind this discussion: Please realize your pivotal role in this mortal competition. I hope you’ll patronize your locally owned bookstore and use online retailers only when necessary. Convenience costs more than you might think. Internet convenience influence affects so many others in your own community. Besides, your local bookstore should offer you an irreplaceable experience that engages all your senses whenever you walk into their brick-and-mortar confines. They should also help you discover new bestsellers in the making for your reading enjoyment.
Right after a potential reader sets their eyes on your book cover, the next critical test to pique the interest of the reader is page one of the story. Does it beg the reader to read more?
For this reason, I begin and end writing and editing with the first page. Like in real life, “first impressions matter” in establishing relationships. We don’t often get many second chances. Neither do our books should the first impression fail to pique a curious reader’s interest.
As an independent author, my books do not have the advertising and promotional blitz advantage afforded by the top publishers hawking their stable of best-selling authors. T. M. Brown does not have the name recognition of best-selling authors, such as Grisham, Patterson, Baldacci, Karon, Blackstock, etc. Like the myriad of other new books published this year, the majority lacking the deep pockets and name recognition, success boils down to passing the sensory appeal test.
What is the sensory appeal test? Does the book cover stand out when on display amongst the notable NYC published best sellers, or does it shrink almost unnoticed, overshadowed by more noticeable book covers?
Maybe its the competitive nature within me, but I desire my books to compete among the notables, the best-sellers. I prefer my books to be on the eye level front shelves in the bookstore; not relegated to shelves set aside in the back of the store. Why is that important? Okay, T. M. Brown is not a household name in the literary world, but when my book covers are displayed beside notable names that readers seek, Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories and Testament, An Unexpected Return are exposed to more potential readers. BUT, now the sensory appeal test begins.
When either of my book covers catches the eye of a perusing reader and they pause to slide the book off the shelf for a closer look, the reader’s keen senses in the next few seconds decide the fate of my book. Without the notoriety of the more familiar author Dan Brown, it is the front cover which then earns an extended feel of the book.
My publisher utilizes heavier stock paper to print its books, and it is noticeable to the feel. The reader then flips to the back cover and peruses the carefully edited snippets about the book. If the book cover has passed the initial sensory appeal test the reader invests another critical moment and thumbs through the pages before eyeing the first page. Those first 200 or so words reign supreme over the next few seconds as the reader weighs the quality of the content of this interesting new author’s novel. Should by chance the reader flip the page or closes the book but runs their hand over the cover once again, chances are a decision is underway. In that brief moment, the weight of the first page matters.
Now It’s Your Turn
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? How much time do you give to selecting out a good novel to read? Are you narrowly focused on tried and tested bestsellers? Are you a reader who more often than not feels dissatisfied by the novels being hyped and peddled by the big New York City publishing houses. Sadly, there is more and more pressure for the assembly production of novels by notable authors. They are easy to recognize because the author name takes up the top half of the front cover. They are promoting the author’s reputation, not the story inside.
So how do my books stack up? Do the first pages cause you to consider reading more?
Are you ready to accept the Indie Author Challenge to never quit? Though Indie Authors must bear an enormous handicap to publish and then market in the growing sea of books on the market today, are you up to the challenge?
As an Indie-Author there are days when I feel like Brock from the movie, Facing the Giants. In this inspirational scene, Brock is challenged to bear crawl blindfolded toting a huge handicap on his back. Like Brock, I have no idea how far I must push myself to reach the goal line. I also share trying to heed the two voices screaming to determine my fate. There are the encourager’s persistent external urgings that compete to be heard above that inner voice screaming within my head, “I can’t do this! It’s too painful. It costs too much. I can’t possibly succeed.”
Then that encouraging voice pleads even louder, “Don’t quit! Don’t you quit! You can do it!”
Which voice will win the day within you? Do you believe in your heart that the goal line lies just beyond your grasp though you just can’t identify how much further it lies?
Are your ears attuned to those just like you who are being inspired by you and have piped in to cheer you on? Is it your tenacity and stubborn refusal to not give up …to not quit that has spurred them to your feet?
It is an undeniable fact: Indie Authors must carry a handicap to compete in the publishing world, and the amount of sacrifice and effort to reach the goal line is not always visible, BUT you gotta believe there are encouragers all along the way rallying you to not quit.
So for me, I will be like Brock and keep on, keeping on until I can’t go any further. And when I finally succumb and take off the blindfold, I pray the “blood, sweat, and tears” was worth it, and the goal line rested beneath my exhausted body. Because by overcoming the enormous handicap I began the Indie Author challenge carrying, others will be emboldened to accept the same challenge.
Can I count on you to encourage me and other Indie Authors to reach the goal line?