You want me to do what?!
Well here we are again and I am learning the more I get done in this industry the more there is to d. Trust me every day I can write or blog or see one of my new releases in print is a gift and a blessing but its a lot of work. My readers are everything and I love and enjoy all the feedback I get, negative or positive I welcome it.
Anyway on to today's topic, when my first book was published I remember thinking this was it I had arrived, that now that world's database of great books had my work and my next stop was Oprah's couch to discuss my bestseller, after that, it would be picked up to be made into a made for tv movie, my life would consist of book tours and talks and I would be set for life, great right? Yeah, no that is not how any of this works and it wasn't until I was signed to Snow Publishing/Sonovia Alexander Presents that I even had the smallest idea of what really goes into this wild and crazy world of being a published author.
First of all, if you are shy (like I can be) or introverted in any way get ready to step wayyyyyy out of your comfort zone. When I finally made up my mind to find a publisher it was so hard for me at first, Im a people person, no let me rephrase that, I'm a people I know and who they know person but in order to do this I had to reach out and introduce myself and ask total strangers if they were interested in new authors, would they mind reading my work or even pointing me in the right direction, then wait for days, sometimes weeks for them to respond if they did at all.
After that, the submission process begins and the waiting game begin all over again but its even worse this time because this is followed by the cold and emotionless rejection emails and form letters. Imagine that sting, you pour your heart and soul into your work to have someone reduce into a two-sentence dismissal with a kiss sentence like 'Best of luck in your future endeavors' or 'Keep on writing!'
Oh and lets not even go into the vanity publishers who give you this long, detailed 'acceptance' letters with what they will offer when you sign with them all to send your heart racing and your mind and ego soaring until you get to that last paragraph and see the section for your credit card information!
Nonetheless, I am very blessed and my publisher took a chance and signed me. It was so different, I didn't have to go through designing the cover, submitting the file, ordering the proof, editing the proof, resubmitting over and over again. Light Eyed Girl had so many revisions and cover designs that when I saw the very first one unpacking an old drawer of stuff I didn't even know what it was at first!
Honestly the day I was asked about my design ideas for the first cover I almost cried, why lie? I cried like a damn baby and when I saw it you would have thought I gave birth! So again I thought this is it, I have arrived, all I have to do now is sit back and ride this wave to fame, oh Sweetie, no!
After my book was published and available for purchase, my publisher said something to me I have never forgotten, one little simple word, PROMOTE.
Here's the deal at any given time thousands upon thousands of books flood this industry and while the big publishing house who has a marketing and promoting department, most smaller publishers (those willing to take a chance on an unknown author with no experience or following) do not so it is up to you, the author, to get out there and promote yourself and your work.
Now, remember when I said about being way out of your comfort zone if you are shy or introverted? This is what I meant, in order to develop a following and or attract readers you have to step even further outside of your box, and in today's world, it all starts on social media. It's not to enough simply share on your personal page where all your friends and family are, you want readers? You have to go out and get them!
For me personally, in the beginning, this was so hard, like I said I am shy and I also have anxiety and one of my tells is I apologize constantly and for the most mundane things! I have to draw your blood but I'm in your personal space? I'm so sorry. I need to move in front of you in an aisle in a grocery store that you're blocking? Excuse me I'm so sorry. I can't post the link for my book on your page this a discussion type page and only approved certain people can do that? Cue the flushing of my face, tears burning my eyes as I again say I am SO SORRY! Even behind a computer or phone screen, it was hell to be corrected, rejected or even deleted bringing attention to the fact that I'm peddling my little book and doing it wrong!
So after deciding just having my family and friends reading my book was enough for the umpteenth time and this whole thing was stupid so I give up, my son told me to stop being a punk and find my voice and navigate this thing my way.
Instead of letting my anxiety and fear of rejection lead the way I took the driver's seat and approached this promotions thing like I do every time I'm writing on a subject I'm not that familiar with, I researched it.
One of the benefits of being signed to a publisher instead of self-publishing was the fact that I gained a whole slew of 'pen-siblings'. Men and women who were trying to get their voices heard and books read just like me and who were willing to help the new kid find her own way so I picked their brains, my publisher's too.
They told me all about author pages, creating websites, signing up for as many media platforms as I could and even invited me to the author groups that the sole purpose of is getting new authors out there.
It changed the game for me and I was happily posting my link all over the place but it wasn't enough, it was good start but one of my pen sisters told me if I really wanted to get out there I had to do more.
First and foremost I needed to show the readers who I was, give them a face to match with my work so she said I needed to have some pictures taken, not a selfie at the club or right after getting a cute hairstyle but actual pictures with the sole purpose of promoting myself.
Ummm how about NO!!! I hadn't voluntarily taken pictures of just me since 1989, when I about to graduate high school when I was cute in the face and small in the waist, barely a size 8!
Again, I was way outside of my comfort zone but the whole point of seeking out a publisher in the first place was to attract more readers right? And after a pep talk from my beautiful daughter who is also a pageant girl, I called a couple of photographer friends of mine and got some pictures taken, now my picture graces every paperback I put out.
I said all of that to say this, anything you want in this life ain't free or easy, it takes hard work, dedication and most times stepping out of our little box of security we call comfort.
Take it from a girl who is so shy that maintaining eye contact is still something I have to remind myself to do on a constant and regular basis, you can do anything you don't talk yourself out of, get some like-minded or motivated people on your team and make those dreams a reality.
I haven't had the pleasure of plastering New York #1 Best Selling Author on the cover of one of my new releases yet but I am determined and I know one day I will so until then I guess I will keep on pushing my comfort zone to the max and doing what I was so afraid to do when this all began and that's believe in myself and my talent enough to promote myself and do so proudly.
Blessings, light, and love until next time!
Natalie L. Gamble
After all of that, let's take a look and see what Nikki Howell is up to:
“Great, just great,” I mumbled and crawled into my bed. “How the heck did he know?” I hugged one of my stuffed animals and stared at the ceiling.
Tony walked back into my room. “He said cool he would talk to you later, what was that all about?”
I turned on my side facing Tony. “Where is Josh?” He sat next to me, “He went upstairs, something up?”
I shook my head, “No it's just Josh every since I could remember he’s been so overprotective, say boy and Nikki in the same sentence and he blows a gasket.”
He shrugged, “So? We’re both like that Nik what's the big deal?”
“No, Tony you are different you don’t act like that when I mention boys, men or whatever.”
He looked at me for a minute and said, “Nikki look I trust you and I trust your judgment, it's these fools out here I don't trust. I have only known you for two years Josh has known you your whole life and it’s gotta be hard on him to see his little sister growing up.”
I agreed with him but it didn't make me feel any better. “So who’s this Reggie dude? Does he have anything to do with the trouble you and Raunda got into Friday?”
I forgot all about that until now. I took a deep breath and looked at my brother “Yes and no.”
He sat back against the headboard “Alright then let me have the whole story and don't leave anything out.” I told him everything right down to Jam and Reggie’s age. He looked like he was ready to kill someone.
“Nik are you insane?! Twenty-three you know you need to leave his old ass alone!”
Now Tony usually supported me in all things and often argued my points right along with me, this time it didn't seem to be the case and that actually surprised me.
“Tony come on, I'm just getting to know him please just let me see this through.” I reasoned.
He folded his arms. “Naw I'm with Josh on this one Nik.”
I grabbed him by the arms. “Tony, please? I know I'm putting you in an awful place and it's so wrong of me to ask but please Tony let me see this through.”
He rolled his eyes at me, “Dammit Nikki I love you too much to see you get hurt and that’s what about to happen, he's eight years older than you Nikki!”
I started messing with my stuffed animal. “I know,” I mumbled.
He swore under his breath. “Fine Nikki I love you to death and I'm telling you you're making a huge mistake but I'm with you Bird and if he hurts you I'm going to kill him.”
I hugged my brother. “Thanks, Tony.”
He gave me a quick pat on the back. “Don't thank me Bird.” He left my room, I watched him leave Reggie Waters better be worth all this trouble. I felt like the biggest ass in the world bringing Tony into my mess.
I walked back into the family room to call Reggie back before my mom called us all for dinner. He answered on the first ring “Hello?” I smiled when I heard his voice.
“Hey, Reggie this is Nikki.” I could hear his smile. “Hey Baby girl glad you called me back.” I sat on the couch and turned on my radio.
“So what are you up to?” I could hear music on his end too just not as loud as it usually was.
“I'm working on another tape. How did your song go at church?” It was nice that he remembered. “Fine, just glad it's over, to tell the truth.” He chuckled. “So did you have sweet dreams like I told you to?” I sighed. “I woke up smiling so I guess so.”
He laughed again. “Are you coming over this weekend?”
“Yeah let me talk to Raunda.” I could hear him idly scratching a record.
“Cool because I went out and bought us another movie to watch.”
I paused my music to try and figure out what song he was playing. “Oh, so you just assumed I was coming over huh?”
He was quiet for a minute. “Well, I was hoping so anyway.” I talked to him for a few more minutes when my mom called down the stairs.
“Nikki dinners ready, are you eating?” I put my hand over the receiver.
“Yes, ma’am I’ll be up in a sec.” “So you gotta go huh?” He sounded disappointed.
“Yeah let me go eat dinner, can I call you back later?”
“Of course you can I’ll talk to you soon baby girl.” “Ok bye.” I hung up and ran up the stairs I came up short when I saw Serena and Josh sitting at the kitchen table.
“Hi Serena, I thought you guys went home otherwise I would have come up to talk to you sooner.”
She smiled at me “That's ok and thank you for helping your mom with JJ.”
I waved my hand at her “Serena please you know it's no problem, I love watching him.”
Josh just sat there glaring at me. “Who were you just talking to Nik, Reggie?” He asked sarcastically.
I grabbed a plate out of the cabinet. “My phone, my business Josh.” I sang and started fixing my plate. Antony grabbed his plate and headed downstairs. I assumed to the family room, a good idea I planned on joining him.
“Just remember what I said.” He warned and went back to eating his food.
“Why don’t you worry about raising JJ and stay the hell out of my business?” I snapped.
My little sister Rachel walked in. “Hey, Nikki how did you do?” I looked confused.
“Huh? How did I do with what?”
“Yeah, that's what I’d like to know!” Josh snapped.
“Dammit, Josh she isn’t even talking to you mind your own damn business and leave me alone!” Rachael quickly fixed her plate and went to her room I heard her door slam.
“Alright, now that’s enough! What's going on with you two now?” My mom came rushing into the kitchen.
I glared over at Josh before I smiled at my mom, “Nothing mom you son is just being a nosy jerk as usual.”
I whirled around and stomped down the stairs. I went past the family room and placed my plate on the coffee table and went to my room closing the door. I planned to take it back up when I was sure Josh was gone, instead, I fell asleep thinking again about Reggie and all the trouble liking him had already caused.
School was relatively uneventful most days, I shared a locker with one of my best male friends Joseph Peters he was always fun to be around and he was the one I planned to talk to about Reggie that Monday.
“Nik-kay what's up girl?” Joseph was stuffing loose papers on a shelf when I walked up shaking my head.
“Joseph you know you need to clean out this locker this is all your mess.” I handed him a peach seltzer water, I always brought an extra otherwise mine would disappear.
“You know you're a sweetie right?” He gave me a hug and took the water from me. “So what did you do this weekend Nikki?” Joseph was the original party animal.
“Nothing more of the same ole same, I met a guy though,” I said, grabbing my English book out of the locker after hanging up my coat.
“Oh really? what school does he go to?”
I laughed, “No school, he's 23.”
He frowned, “What?! Nikki you are tripping you need to leave his old ass alone and get with my boy Matt.”
“Matt who?” “Matt Prince, he's in your Science class, can I give him your number?”
I started walking towards the English pod. “Joe whatever you want just please clean out the locker.” He laughed and slammed our locker closed.
I had career training after 4th period. It was off-campus so it took up the rest of my school day. I was a student manager in a real retail store. Tori went there too for composing and arranging; she worked in a real studio.
I talked to Reggie every day from that Sunday much to Antony and Joseph’s dismay.
I starting talking to Matt a lot on the phone as well he was a really sweet guy and was becoming another one of my good guy friends.
I saw Reggie when I could, I was either at Dads or Josh would set it up so that I ended up with JJ a lot of the time.
The times I couldn't see him I wrote him letters and spent hours talking to him on the phone, the more time we spent apart the more I craved to see him so I started ditching after 4th period so I could see him, he would drop me off after school so I could get home on time. I was slowly but surely falling love with Reggie and I even started working on a song for him.
Tori was doing the music and background vocals, I wrote the lyrics and was singing the lead vocals. Three months passed by so quickly and we were inseparable. I went with him to some of his shows and everyone knew I was Reggie’s girl.
He had invited me to another show and I was all for it, Raunda came up with a plan for both of us to get out of the house.
Raunda wasn't coming with me to the show she was going to be with Jam.
“Mom, Reggie invited me to his show Friday night can I go?” I was working on another verse for Reggie's song. I was sitting at the kitchen table she sat across from me pouring a glass of ice water.
“Is Raunda coming?” I smiled this is what we expected them to ask. “Yes her and Jam are coming too.”
She took a long drink of her water “What did Bettie say?” Another smile from me.
“She said Raunda could go if I could.” Oddly enough Josh was silent about me dating lately I think he just gave up on me. Mom never asked to meet Reggie either, something else that struck me as odd but I refused to mention and put ideas in her head.
“I suppose you can go, are you spending the night with Raunda and Tori then?” I closed my notebook and stood to go to my room.
“Yes ma'am is that ok?” She nodded and started looking out the window. I ran downstairs to tell Raunda our plan worked.
The night of the show I was on pins and needles, Reggie told me he had a surprise for me.
“Raunda hurry up they should be here any minute.”
She was in the mirror for the fifth time fussing with her hair, I was no better. I was in my third outfit, a pink sweater/skirt set.
“Girl I don’t even know why you fuss so much about your hair it always ends up in a ponytail after you see Jam anyway I teased.
“Nikki shut up before Mom hears you, and we get grounded.” She rolled her eyes smiling and went back to her hair.
I heard Reggie’s van pull up outside, “Raunie come on before Aunt Bettie sees that ‘whorehouse on wheels’ as her and mom call vans and really flips!” I dragged her out of the bathroom and threw her her coat.
“We’re leaving Aunt Bettie,” I called over my shoulder and dragged Raunda out the door. She closed and locked the door and was following me to the van when she started laughing.
I turned around confused “What?”
“I was just tripping on the fact that here you are dragging me around for a change.” I laughed and hopped in the front seat giving Reggie a quick kiss
“Hey missed you.” He smiled “Missed you too, hey Raunda what's up?”
She slid in the backseat, “Hey Reggie.”
I looked around confused, “Where is Jam?”
He pulled out on the road. “Oh he’s back at the house, we are heading there now.” I looked back at Raunda frowning.
“I thought he was coming with you to pick us up?” He was looking at the road like it was new to him.
“Plans change.” I shot Raunda a questioning look; she shrugged and looked over at Reggie in the rearview mirror. I turned back around thinking something was definitely up.
“Calm down baby girl we are all going to the house.”
“Huh? What happened to the show?”
He smirked “Cancelled.”
Raunda giggled like the guilty traitor she was. She knew what was going on, the brat.
“So we are all hanging out at the house then?” He smiled again, shaking his head at me for asking so many questions.
“No Jam and Raunda are going to the movies, we’re hanging out at the house.”
I was so confused. Was this the surprise or was it something else?
When we got to the house Reggie honked the horn, Jam came out and got in the driver’s seat I followed Reggie to the house it was dark inside so Reggie grabbed my hand and led me to the living room.
I gasped in surprise there were candles everywhere, soft music was playing and two plates of food were on the table. “Surprise.” Reggie wrapped his arms around me from behind.
“Sit down Nikki.” I stayed rooted in place. “Why did you do this?” I asked when I found my voice.
“Because I love you.” I smiled and looked at him for confirmation.
“What did you say?” He smiled and walked me to the couch, “I said I love you, Nikki.”
I sat down on the couch and my heart was racing. “Did you cook this?” I indicated the food on the table.
“No Jam did, are you hungry?” I shook my head but picked up a plate of food anyway. I played with the food on my plate while I watched him start eating. I couldn’t stomach anything at the moment.
“He loves me?” I couldn't help but wonder what that meant for us now. He took a sip of one of the drinks on the table.
“I want to make love to you tonight Nikki.” He whispered softly.
I started shaking so bad the fork flipped off my plate. He leaned down to pick it up.
“Nikki baby are you okay?”
I turned to him trance-like. “You want to what?” My ears were ringing so loud I couldn't have heard what I thought I heard, he couldn't be serious.
He took the plate from my hands and put it on the table. “Are you going to have me repeat everything I say tonight?” He chuckled and pulled me to my feet hugging me.
“It’s alright I would never hurt you, Nikki.” He led me to his room, blowing out the candles as we went. He sat on the bed and pulled me in front of him, I was standing between his legs shaking like a leaf.
If I told him no would he be mad at me? I thought to myself, I felt him take off my sweater and then my bra I backed away covering myself by crossing my arms.
He reached out and pulled me back to him. “I love you so much Nikki, I promise you I won't hurt you.” He pulled me closer and kissed me when he felt me relax he laid me back on the bed and laid down next to me.
He pushed my skirt up and removed my panties. “Stop him before it's too late!” I screamed in my head but I couldn’t make the words leave my mouth as he worked his way between my legs and spread them wide and entered me.
I let out a scream loud enough to shatter crystal. He stiffened at once and looked down at me. “Oh my God Nikki I didn't know!” He was showering my face with kisses and started to move again. Heated pain shot through me, I bit my bottom lip to keep from crying out again.
“You have to trust me, ok baby? Try to relax for me.” I nodded and tried not to cry he moved slowly going deeper and it wasn't getting any better.
“Please stop, please stop.” I was chanting in my head and when he finally did seeing that it wasn't going to work his back was bleeding from me digging my nails into it.
He rolled off of me and looked over at me “You never said you were a virgin.” Silent tears zigzagged onto his pillow and I turned my head away from him ashamed of what I allowed him to do. “You never asked.”
He pulled me into his arms gently. “I'm so sorry Nikki, I wanted tonight to be special. I never meant to hurt you.”
I braved a look at him. “So why didn't you stop?”
He took a deep breath. “I thought it would get better for you when I saw you were still in pain I stopped.”
He got up and was heading towards the bathroom.
“Don't Move.” He ordered when he saw me getting off the bed to retrieve my shirt and bra. I stood to put them on anyway and he came out of the bathroom just in time to see the look of pain on my face.
He pulled me back on the bed. “Relax baby, here this should help.” He used a warm washcloth to clean me down below. I could feel his hands were shaking.
“Reggie, are you ok?” I asked with concern. He pulled me to him again “See one of the many reasons why I love you, with what just happened you’re still worried about me.” He looked sad in the light that shined in his window.
He finished with the washcloth and gave me my underwear. I slid them on and he gathered me in his arms again, reaching over and turning on his tv.
I closed my eyes against the tears that wanted to fall. I knew I wouldn't make love to Reggie again and I would probably lose him because of it. I prayed Raunda wouldn’t be gone too long.
I was silent the whole way home, Raunda kept looking at me with a look of concern on her face. She followed me to the guest room( my room) when we got home.
“Nikki are you ok? What happened?” I curled up on the bed and turned towards the wall crying.
“Nikki, what is it?” She sat on the bed rubbing my back.
“Raunie I had sex with Reggie and it hurt so bad after I screamed he still didn't stop for a few minutes, he put a towel there afterward and held me but it still hurt and I am never doing that with him again!” I sobbed.
She hugged me “Nikki I knew he wanted to surprise you but I had no idea what it was other than dinner are you alright?”
I shook my head. “No, it still hurts.”
She rushed across the hall to the bathroom and started bathwater. “Here go take a hot bath, you'll feel better and we can talk more afterward.”
I slowly got off the bed and went to take my bath. It burned like crazy at first but the longer I sat the better I felt.
I found Raunda in her room waiting for me. “Better?” I nodded and sat on her bed next to her. “So what did he say afterward?”
I swallowed back my tears “That he was sorry and he didn't want to hurt me and we didn't have to do that again until I was ready then he held me until you came, he looked scared.”
“Hell, he probably was, are you sure you're alright?”
I nodded and closed my eyes. “Raunda, I'm serious I'm never doing that again.”
She hugged me again, “I know Nikki, I'm sure he will understand.”
I started crying again, “What if he doesn't? I really love him, Raunie.”
She shrugged “Then you show him in other ways Nik.” I fell asleep shortly after talking to Raunda praying she was right about him understanding.