S: Today we have the pleasure of speaking with bestselling Author Barbara Joe Williams. Barbara Joe, thanks for joining us today. Please tell readers a little bit about you
B: I was born and raised in Rosston, Arkansas. Currently, I live in Tallahassee, Florida, with my husband and teenaged daughter. I’m a graduate of Tallahassee Community College and Florida A&M University. I’m also a U.S. Navy veteran, who decided to start writing at the age of 42 after my mother died. She loved romance novels, and I’d always wanted to write one. So, writing became my therapy. Since I was a romance reader, I decided to become a romance writer in the fall of 2003. Now I also write women’s fiction and non-fiction titles.
S: Writing is therapeutic, and I’m glad it helped you to cope with the loss of your Mom. I never knew you were a U.S. Navy veteran, but now that you mention it, I can kind of tell based on your honesty. You put it out there straight with no chaser and let readers and authors know when they need to step up their “A” game. Your candor is quite humorous, and it shows in your body of work. Having published nearly 30 books to date what has this journey been like for you?
B: This journey has been full of adventures. After my first book, Forgive Us This Day, was published, I thought that I was done. But my readers wanted more, so I returned to the computer. Later on, aspiring authors started asking me about publishing them or at least helping them publish. In 2006, I published my first author with Amani Publishing. I also decided to publish some nonfiction books about writing, publishing, and marketing. Last year, I came up with an idea to write a YA series set in the 70s titled, Bell Bottom High. It’s loosely based on my teenaged years in Arkansas.
S: That’s wonderful! Which one of your books would you say is your favorite and why?
B: My editor told me that my latest book should always be my favorite book. However, I have to disagree. My first novel will always be my favorite because it was the first. I know those characters better than any that I’ve written since then, and they will always be special to me.
S: I can relate to that. Your first book is like your first-born child. So, what kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
B: I enjoy reading the type of books that I enjoy writing, romance. But I do like a good mystery or a thriller every now and then. I’m also open to reading other genres as recommended by my author friends.
S: As a proofreader, do you find yourself subconsciously correcting the books you read?
B: Yes, every single one. It was a habit before I started charging to do it.
S: That’s funny because I never paid much attention to the books I read. I just loved a good story. After I became a published author that changed. I started noticing things about my own writing as well as others. Readers can be helpful with giving feedback sometimes too. What do readers say about your books? Do they ever reach out to you?
B: Yes, I hear from my readers all the time. In fact, they encouraged me to start my own group on Facebook called, Barbara Joe Reads & Writes. I fought it for years because I didn’t think I could manage a group. But two author-friends volunteered to help me manage it, and I’m so thankful for them. Now I do a giveaway on that page almost every week from different author-friends, and my readers love it!
S: I enjoy the group myself, so I’m glad you decided to finally create one. You know, I read that you provide consultation services via your company Amani Publishing. What kinds of questions do most aspiring writers want to know? And how are you able to gage if a writer is ready to become a published author?
B: Most aspiring authors want to know if they’re on the right track or if their work is ready for publishing. So, I start with a consultation meeting, either in person or on the phone. Then, I ask to see a sample of the work or the completed project. Based on that, I give my opinion on whether or not it’s ready to be published. If they need more help with development or publishing, I’m available for additional assistance.
S: That’s nice of you to help them in that way. As a proofreader, have you ever read a story that just wasn’t ready for publishing? If so, how did you go about letting the writer know?
B: Yes, I’ve had my share of stories that weren’t ready for publishing. I tell my clients upfront, that I’m going to be honest with them after I’m done proofreading. In most cases, they have appreciated my honesty. But I make it a point to let them know what they need to do to make it publishable. At that point, it’s up to them to do the work or not.
S: When offering that type of advice, do you think an ego helps or hinders an author when it comes to accepting recommended changes to their manuscripts?
B: I think an ego will hinder an author from accepting recommended manuscript changes. It will also determine how they respond to negative reviews. I tell all my clients that they need to let the ego go and develop tough skin.
S: That’s good advice, especially in this business. When I first started, someone told me, don’t take things personally because readers don’t know you personally. They’re only judging your work not you. At any rate, I know you mentioned you decided to write because your mother enjoyed reading and it helped you to cope, but why did you select the route of self-publishing versus traditional publishing? And what will you say are the pros and cons of each?
B: First, I tried the traditional publishing route and mailed out about 30 copies of my manuscript to agents and publishers. Of course, they all rejected me, but a few were kind enough to send me comments for improving my manuscript. I took all of those comments, revised my work, and sent it out to the editor again. While I was waiting to hear from the traditional publishers, I was researching self-publishing because it was like the newest thing in 2004. But after the second revision, I didn’t have the heart to go through rejection again. So, I decided to start my own business and self-publish. The only pro for self-publishing is that you’re your own boss. The only con for self-publishing is that you’re your own boss. You have to be very disciplined to make it work for you.
S: That’s true. Whether you succeed or fail it will all fall in your lap since you're in charge.
Do you think self-publishing is a fad or something that will be around for a while?
B: Self-publishing is definitely not a fad. In fact, it’s continuing to grow. I don’t see any signs of it slowing down anytime soon, especially since eBooks arrived on the scene. I see new authors entering the industry every day trying to make a name for themselves.
S: What areas of self-publishing would you say would make the playing field between traditionally published books more competitive and/or fair?
B: I think the pricing of eBooks and paperback books, in general, would make the playing field more competitive and fair between self-published and traditional publishers.
S: Hmm…I’ve never looked at it that way, but I think you’re on to something. So what are some things that actually inspire you to write?
B: Reading really inspires me to write. When I start reading someone else’s story, it makes me want to write my own. I look at every new story idea and wonder how I can make it my own.
S: I'm glad you said that reading inspires you to write because I've met some authors who say they don't have time to read and I often wondered about that. You know, things that make you go... "Hmmm."
So, what made you want to help other aspiring authors in terms of proofreading and publishing advice?
B: I started out as a classroom teacher who because a guidance counselor, so I naturally enjoy helping people succeed. When aspiring authors started reaching out to me, I was happy to help them along the publishing path. My publishing package has always included proofreading because I have to make sure that whatever I publish is presentable to the public.
S: That’s wonderful and it's probably a good feeling for you to see people reach their goals under your tutelage, I bet. Having written so many books, have you ever won or been nominated for awards?
B: Yes, I’ve been nominated for several writing awards in different categories, and I’ve won a few. However, I’m not really into awards so I can’t tell you which ones I’ve been nominated for or the ones that I’ve won. But this year for Black History Month, I was awarded the Unsung Hero award for my community service which included helping local authors succeed.
Recently, you chose a genre that you wouldn’t normally write in, and that was YA, as you mentioned. You wrote the Bell Bottom High series, and the covers are beautiful! I read book one and enjoyed it, so I’ll have to finish the series, but what made you write for the young adult audience?
B: I wrote that series because I wanted to show teens how certain social issues were handled differently in the 70s compared to now, especially teen pregnancy. It was also a way for me to connect with my teenaged daughter and nieces. I figured they would be more apt to read about situations in a fictionalized setting instead of me sharing my life story with them, and I was right. Each book chronicles a particular year of high school for the main character, Reesy Jones. And yes, I have a few other YA book ideas in mind for the future. Just not sure when they will get written considering it took me almost ten years to complete this one.
S: Wow! That’s quite some time, but I’m glad your daughter and nieces enjoy the series. Your new book is an enjoyable novella as well, titled, A Night to Remember. Was this your first novella? What made you write it and how did you come up with the idea and the characters?
B: Actually, it’s a novelette; and yes, it’s my first. However, I have published a novella and several short stories. I came up with the idea for the story in December after accepting a writing challenge from one of the members of my group: Tallahassee Authors Network. It started out as a short story to share at our Christmas party, and I wanted it centered around a holiday. Since the next one coming was New Year’s, I chose that one. And since my main resolution is always to lose weight, the story of Annette and John was born.
S: Will you turn A Night to Remember into a full novel or write a part 2 as a full novel?
B: No, I don’t have plans to develop it into a full novel, but my readers have requested a part two. So, I’m working on: Another Night to Remember. I’m going to upload it as a surprise release whenever it’s done.
S: Aw shucks! I look forward to that!
Christian fiction is another popular genre of African American literature. Is that a genre you’ll consider writing next?
B: Nope, but some readers have classified my books as Christian fiction even though I haven’t classified them as such. All of my books have Christian characters, but I show the other side as well. I can’t see myself remaining inside the strict guidelines for that genre.
S: I’ve known some authors who chose to write under a pseudo name in order to capitalize on certain genres that are considered to be taboo. Is this something you’ve considered doing? Or do you think authors should remain true to who they are?
B: I chose the pen name B.J. Williams for my YA series because I also write hot romance novels. I didn’t want teens reading my romance books, but I’ve never tried to hide who I am. I just didn’t want teens searching for the next book in the YA series and come out with a hot love story.
S: I can understand that.
Do you think authors should engage with others on social media and discuss politics, religion, and social issues as a way to draw new readers? Or do you think authors should keep the mystique and stick to literature and books?
B: I think authors should discuss whatever they feel comfortable discussing on social media. In general, I try not to comment on politics or religion because they’re personal decisions that I’m not open to debate.
S: I can understand that. So, do you write every day?
B: Nope, I don’t write every day. If I’m working on a new project, I try to write every day until it’s done. But once it’s over, I take a break until the next writing binge hits me.
S: How do you manage Amani Publishing services and writing your own books?
B: It’s like a balancing act. I love writing, but I also have to make time for the business parts. After I’ve had coffee, I usually spend the morning doing editing, proofreading, and other business stuff. Then, I usually spend the afternoon (and some evenings) reading or writing, and promoting.
S: What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about writing?
B: My favorited thing about writing is getting to experience the world through the eyes of my characters. My least favorite thing about writing is the revising process. When those edits come back from the editor, I feel like hiding.
S: I can definitely relate to the rewriting process. Whew! That part is no fun!
Your daughter, Amani recently published a book of poems, titled, Peace Poems. What was it like assisting her with that project?
B: It was such an amazing experience as a mother. I didn’t even know she was writing poetry until I was asked to be a judge at the teen poetry slam. When I told Amani about it, she got all excited and asked to participate. That’s when Amani informed me that she’d been writing poetry. So, I had to resign as a judge, but Amani ended up with a book deal.
S: That’s great! I’m happy for her! Have you ever considered writing something together with Amani or collaborating with fellow authors for a book project?
B: I haven’t considered writing with my daughter. However, I’ve been featured in three anthologies and co-authored one novel titled Courtney’s Collage.
S: Now for that fun part since it’s March Madness! Give us your Final Four favorite authors?
B: Terry McMillan, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Adrienne Thompson, and Angelia Vernon Menchan.
S: That's a great list. A couple of them are listed in my final four as well. So, what does Barbara Joe like to do for fun?
B: I love laughing and hanging out with my family, friends, and members of the Tallahassee Authors Network. I also love going to concerts, movies, plays, and traveling as often as I can, especially on cruises.
S: That sounds fun.
For aspiring authors, what piece of advice would you give them?
B: I have a ton of advice in my publishing guide titled, A Writer’s Guide to Publishing & Marketing. My best piece of advice would be to remember that writing is a hobby, but publishing is a business. So please do the research before you open for business!
S: Just to remind back a little bit, I know you said you used to teach, but have you taught writing classes before and if so, did any of your students ever publish their work?
B: Yes, I’ve taught many classes on writing, publishing, and marketing. And yes, several aspiring authors have followed their dreams and self-published as a result of attending my informative workshops. It’s a wonderful feeling to see them progress from an idea to a published book under my direction.
S: In this digital age, people come across many articles and blogs online. What would you say to a potential book lover right now to get them interested in reading your books?
B: They should read my romance and women’s fiction if they want spicy storylines with realistic characters. My stories center around strong, middle-aged women who know what they want out of life. I also write a lot about married couples because I want to show that romance can remain a long time after the honeymoon is over. If these are the type of stories that your followers are interested in reading, they should be reading me!
S: I know that's right. LOL.
Leave us with one of your favorite quotes that you live by.
B: One of my favorite quotes: If there is a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it… Toni Morrison
S: I love it! Where can readers purchase your books and connect with you on social media?
A Night to Remember: http://amzn.to/2qL3IUM
Amazon page: http://goo.gl/hCOkBb
Thank you for joining us today! We wish you much-continued success!
B: Thank you! Likewise!