I’m sure that every self-published author has had a different experience and unique strategies when it comes to getting their work noticed by potential readers out there. Many probably already have a strong writing platform, or even a substantial amount of followers on social media. Most of us, however, basically spend our days throwing bottled messages into a deep and hostile ocean. I don’t know, that’s just how I see the literary industry for us “the indies”. And yet, no matter how tough or exhausting the road feels, it still has its wonders.
One of those wonders was my recent (and very first) visit to New York City. Now, I know that visiting NYC isn’t exactly a rarity for many people, especially if you’re a writer, musician, or an artist of some kind. But for me it was quite the experience.
At first (and I mean this) I wasn’t exactly aiming to promote my novel during my trip. I really just wanted to take a break from the chaos of my personal life, to see a new place, and visit some of my relatives in The Big City. But days before I took off, my mother suggested that I brought a few copies in my suitcase, just in case someone would ask to purchase one. So I said, “why not?” and took six copies (not a lot, since I wasn’t too keen on paying extra for my luggage). But I wasn’t going to stay in New York for long, merely a week and a half, thus I had to use every second abroad wisely.
Unfortunately (and rather ironically), my relatives had very few or no days off to make plans with me, and only on my second day was I then able to do a little touring with one of my cousins and his wife. I will not describe the entire day in this post, yet I’m obliged to mention my visit to the United Nations Headquarters.
Long-story-short, I took the tour, learned a lot from our guide, Miss Fanja, who was really sweet, attentive and made the experience fun and interactive. I had a bit of mixed feelings, since I know it’s always been a dream of my father’s to visit the U.N. Headquarters as well, and not having him next to me in this journey was really tough. (God-willing, I will take him with me next time!) I still recall when I used to travel to Europe every summer and he couldn’t come along. How I would get on that plane, feeling a lump growing bigger inside my throat. I hated that we couldn’t afford to go together, until the summer of 2010 when he made his first trip towards the Old World. Amazing times.
Sorry for the throw-back, I’m just random like that.
Anyhow, the U.N. experience was definitely memorable. But as I walked into their book shop downstairs, I had just one thing in my mind; My book needs to be displayed here. Crazy, delusional ideas? Maybe a little, and only because I am not a famous author (yet!). If I was, the book would fit right in; Across the Border: Interview with a Refugee, it falls right into their line of interest, so why not try? I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly storm into the shop with a box full of copies ready to place on their shelves. I did, however, leave a few of these lying around the tables and between other books.
As I did, I felt both fear and euphoria slowly building up inside me. For me it was like I was breaking the law; doing something without asking for permission beforehand. I was smiling internally, thrilled, even if my move was practically harmless. And yet, somehow I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it. Indeed, I didn’t have a very exciting childhood. I never rang someone’s doorbell and ran away. I never lit cherry bombs inside my neighbor’s mailbox. Hell, as a little girl I wouldn’t even reach for the cookie jar without asking mom for permission. Every excitement that I missed as a child, I reclaimed it the day I “illegally” placed those cards (with my contact info on them) on those book displays. And boy, did I savor the moment.
But still, when I left the U.N. Headquarters I looked over my shoulder feeling incomplete. I asked myself; If you left the cards, why not a few books as well? I could have, since I was carrying two copies inside my purse. The idea had actually popped up as we stopped inside one of the meeting chambers to take pictures. I thought of leaving the copy atop one of the delegate’s desks or on a chair. But I knew there were cameras all around me, and I didn’t want to get myself in actual trouble for leaving “suspicious” stuff around. I’m Latina and I am often mistaken by a Middle Eastern woman. So trust me, I got profiling reasons to last me a lifetime.
In the middle of the tour, I asked the guide about the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and why she didn’t speak about the refugee cause. Her answer was simple; it’s another division. Yes, it’s part of the U.N. but a completely separate office. I then asked if I could visit their offices in New York but this was not possible, as they weren’t open to the public. And like that wasn’t enough, the actual UNHCR Headquarters are located in Geneva. That’s just great, isn’t?
Of course, I wasn’t going to give up just yet. But there was a self-esteem battle going on inside my mind;
“Get over yourself, small-town girl! Why would anyone at the U.N. want your book? “
And in a way it made sense. I mean, why the U.N.? Or, why the UNHCR specifically? Well, I’m a dreamer, and dreamers can’t be realistic. So, screw it. I’ll say it. Deep within my mental wonderland, a copy of this book would magically and casually find its way into the hands of former Goodwill Ambassador, and now Special Envoy for Refugee Issues (yes, you guessed it) Mrs. Angelina Jolie Pitt. And you know what? I strongly believe she would enjoy reading this novel, I just do. Putting aside the fact that she’s a major celebrity (and that she played my babe Lara Croft) I strongly admire Jolie for her humanitarian work, her countless efforts to help refugees and her mission to raise awareness on this issue. She is one of my biggest role models in this world, and like every admirer, I want to shake her hand even if just for a second. But until that happens, could she somehow notice my work?
With that in mind, I took the subway one afternoon and decided to find that UNHCR bureau. I just wanted to leave a copy in their office, randomly, without an appointment or any reason other than to have someone from that organization read my work (and pass it on). I must confess that I am terrible at taking trains and subways, especially in New York. I can’t tell downtown from uptown (yes, something about the street numbers but I forget!). I ended up taking the L, the M, the 1,2,3 and 4 and finally, I was lost. I was so confused, that night fell and when I finally arrived at the tall building, the office was already closed. Figures.
(Photo from Google Maps)
But that was not the end of my mission, nonetheless. There was a friendly receptionist in the lobby who advised me to stay for a bit in case someone from the Human Rights office could still be around. And there was! A beautiful, ethnic woman with short curls and exotic jewelry happened to come out of the elevator right when I was considering leaving. The receptionist explained my situation and she was kind enough to give me a great idea I never thought of before; “You could donate the book to the U.N. Library.” At first I felt a slight chuckle trying to escape my lips. My novel? In the United Nations Library? How? Why? Really? It sounded huge to me, and at my early author stage, quite unreachable. Some people might say “Well it’s not like you’re going to have an overnight bestseller on the shelves of Barnes & Noble…”
True, I don’t. But this lady’s hint was one I wouldn’t pass by for the world.
So, I went for it. About two days later, I took one of my copies and a few business cards, and walked all the way back to the U.N. Headquarters (this time I had problems to get in because I was using an expired passport, but I was told at the airport that I could still use it as an I.D.) On the way, I rehearsed a short explanation in case they asked me why I wanted to donate such book to their library. I don’t mean to brag, but it takes a lot of courage to show up someplace like that as an independent author (or artist of any kind) and have faith that they’ll even listen to you. Of course, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. For when I arrived back at the visitor’s center, I was told by both a security guard and an information booth attendant that I couldn’t have access to Dag Hammarskjöld Library (because it was only for U.N. Staff and delegates). Still, I didn’t frown just yet, and made my way to another information office (located downstairs, next to the gift shops and cafe). I spoke to the attendant about the purpose of my visit, and he was eager to help me without hesitation. He grabbed the phone and called the library directly, then asked for a staff member to come pick up my copy. It was a thrilling moment for me and I couldn’t find enough words to thank the man behind the desk. I ran back to the lobby, and a couple of minutes later one of the librarians approached me, portraying a warm smile on his face. He expressed being surprised to see a young writer bringing a copy of her own book as a donation, and shook my hand as he read my name on the cover.
Needless to say, when I walked out of the building I was so happy that I took a “selfie” and sent it to my mother, just so she could see how I felt inside. It may not be a major achievement for many, but for me it was a bold and exciting move that I know will be a blessing one day.
The “OMG I can’t believe I did that!” Selfie
It was a good day…
So yeah, New York is in fact a magnificent city of dreams. But let’s face it; it can be a little noisy.
That said, I recall that I was enjoying a walk through 3rd Avenue one of those days and randomly took a right turn into 17th street, where I found a small Greek Orthodox Church. I had already seen many places of worship throughout the city but only on that day did I dare to walk inside one. I don’t know if it was the fact that it was Greek and I found it somewhat exotic, or that it was the closest thing to the Eastern Orthodox Church/Assyrian Church of the East that I found. By the way, I’m terrible at understanding all of these denominational differences; Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and all of the variations of Protestantism. I’m a Christian, and that’s enough for me. (I’ve had it with churches fighting one another. or should I say the CHURCH fighting with itself?)
Either way, I totally loved the atmosphere the moment I walked inside. I had my senses overtaken by the exquisite scent of incense and the calming stillness of an old temple, as I found myself surrounded by golden ornaments and Saints. The place was quiet, not merely because it was a place of worship, but it was empty as well. I walked further inside and sat down in one of the pews located in the back. And I personally love silence, it helps me reflect upon my every action and fall into a deep contemplative trance.
But the stillness was broken rather shortly by an array of footsteps coming down from a higher floor. Moments later, I was greeted by a priest dressed in his long, black robe. Around his neck hung a long, silver crucifix that perfectly marched his shiny grayish hair and beard. His name was Very Rev. Archimandrite Vasilios Bassakyros. He was gentle and loving, I could immediately tell by the way he smiled and kindly invited me to look around the church, take a photo, and light a candle if I wished to pray. I felt welcome and at peace, and as I finished saying my prayers, I went upstairs to share a few with the reverend. I have great interest for what the Church (in general) does in terms of humanitarian aid, so I took the chance to speak about this particular subject, as well as what the Orthodox Church is doing to help the persecuted Christians in the Middle East and other regions. Evidently, it was only natural that I would mention my book at some point, just to clarify why I was so keen to learning more about a topic of which I had only touched the surface. But I didn’t expect his reaction.
“Bring a copy of your book to Mass next Sunday, I’d be happy to introduce you to the congregation,” he said.
I just stared at him with surprised eyes, trying not to tear my face from smiling too hard, even though I’ve been skeptical about promoting my work in the house of God. Frankly, I haven’t even done a book presentation at my home church since I don’t feel is appropriate to use the Church for that purpose. To share the story in the book with the congregation is one thing, but to try and sell it to them from the altar is another and I just can’t do it. Nevertheless, when the day finally arrived and I sat back to be amazed by the Orthodox rites and heavenly chants, the loving reverend did as he’d said and politely introduced me and my work to the members of the church. I was a little shy in the beginning (I sat in the back to watch everything going on around me, of course, like the contemplative, analytic introvert that I am) but soon after the service, many people came to greet me and asked for my business card to contact me about the novel. I felt humbled. And when I thought the morning couldn’t get any better, I was suddenly approached by a tall, beautiful Greek woman who was interested in buying the copy I was carrying. The copies I took to New York weren’t really for sale, and more for promotion and reviewing. And yet, she insisted, adding that she worked for UNICEF and my novel exposed subjects of her interest. Yep, I freaked out. But, there are no coincidences in life, now, are there?
As a more “traditional” stunt I also visited the Barnes & Noble located in Union Square (and other book shops). I walked in with no idea of what I was going to say; “Hi, I’m another indie author trying to place my book on your shelves?” Yeah, it went somewhat like that, and they simply referred me to an address where I’d have to send a copy of my book and a letter of presentation. Surely I did, and then the waiting game began. (But I totally prefer trying out things outside of the “norm” if I want faster results. And by that I mean approaching organizations, schools, libraries, and individuals in the subway (each time I saw someone reading a book I gave out my card). EVERY. EFFORT. COUNTS.
And it’s not just us authors, but all artists who need to go the extra mile to get their work out there and be noticed. From the moment I arrived in NY I couldn’t ignore the great amount of street performers scattered around the city; from singers, to percussionists, dancers and poets, they were all looking to make a buck while promoting their varied talents. Luckily, I had the chance to scratch one of the items off my bucket list, and shimmied my hips to the rhythm of a drum beat at a random location. It all happened at the subway station in Union Square. I could hear the bang of the African drum from the hall upstairs. But then as I went to the platform I saw him, William Ruiz – The Taino Percussionist, going hard on the Djembe, seducing the audience with a drum solo I couldn’t let to waste. I dug into my backpack and drew out my pair of belly-dancing zills. And since I was wearing a bit of an exotic outfit, it was showtime.
Yes, go ahead, imagine it; Puerto Rican girl randomly starts belly-dancing in the middle of the subway platform, joining forces with an awesome musician for everyone to see and record! (If you guys ever see those videos, please tag me….or not? LOL)
Selfie with William after “the show” :3
You might be asking yourself why I was wearing these clothes in the first place (or not, because you don’t actually get into other people’s wardrobe business…) or why the heck I was carrying zills in my bag. Well, believe it or not, deep inside I was hoping for such an opportunity, not imagining that it would actually come true on this trip!
Anyway, about my clothes; I had a date that afternoon. Not with a man, but with an ancient deity; an alabaster bull with a human head, large wings and a great beard. His name was Lamassu. Now, if you’re familiar with Mesopotamian history or have been following the news in recent years, then you’ve probably heard of the Assyrians. And for plenty of (very good) reasons Assyrians are of great interest to me. Therefore, it was necessary that I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to stand in awe before these incredible creatures…
The Palace of Ashurnasirpal II
Marvelous, aren’t they?
I had to take this picture too, naturally, since the main character of the novel is Assyrian 😉
But this day kept on getting even more interesting…
As I walked out of the MET, I went around Madison Avenue and stopped by a small Greek cafe to grab a bite–gyros, to be exact. I stayed in for awhile to charge my cellphone and take a break after a long and exciting day. All of a sudden, the manager came out of the back and started speaking to me, and I don’t even recall why. I’m just used to people starting random conversations with me for no reason. This time, the conversation was about the living conditions in Greece, the economic crisis, and yes, the refugees as well. When we reached that subject I mentioned my interest in traveling to the Middle East one day to visit the refugee camps, with the possibility of doing some voluntary work. Somewhere in that chat I may have mentioned my interest in getting a visa to go to Iraq, but I never imagined what he would do next. The man excused himself and left the establishment, leaving me with a big question mark floating above my head. About ten minutes later, I hear a manly voice behind me, calling me by my name; Miss Rivera. I flinched, then turned around to see a sharply dressed Middle Eastern man not wasting any time to ask me what business I had in Iraq. This mystery man was an adviser from the Iraqi Consulate, who happened to know who I was because certain Griego told him all about me in just a few minutes. Curious by this, the suited fellow went on to find out why some random girl wanted to go to Iraq all by herself during such dangerous times. I gave him my reasons, and he gave me his card to make an appointment in order to begin my paperwork for the visa. Though it sounded intriguing, I knew I wasn’t prepared to make a decision like that, and I still ain’t
Even still…it was a memorable, slightly awkward encounter.
My last stop in this adventure was at the amazing Grand Central Station, where (after attempting to take panoramic pictures of the entire hall) I found a group of students inviting the by-passers into a pretty cool activity. There were several chalk boards arranged in a large circle, completely covered in words and doodles representing things that people wished to have. I was given a piece of chalk and told to write whatever it was that I hoped to achieve of myself. And since I never say no to symbolic acts…
Well, I can say that this basically wraps up my whole experience as an indie author in the Big City. I went there looking for career opportunities, but also to connect with a new crowd and find out how many doors I’ll be able to open on my way. I believe that when you’re representing yourself in the literary industry, it’s important to reach out and speak to people about your work, whether it is in the subway, the park, the museum, a restaurant or the gym. Remember that every person is a potential reader. Personally, going to New York, and having done the stuff I did, signified planting just a couple of seeds in a gigantic field. God-willing they will flourish soon, and I’ll be able to harvest fruits I can be proud of.
But now, let’s see what the Netherlands has to offer…stay tuned!