Read Local by Jennifer Massotti

Posted on January 11, 2013

This is a repost of Jennifer Massotti’s article, “Read Local”, published at OnlineRI on January 05, 2013

We avid readers wait, with bated breath, the release of the latest New York Times Best Sellers list to see what’s top of the charts this week. Or for the more cerebral type, the IndieNext Lists, which feature monthly selections of the best selling titles from independent bookstores across the nation.  We get word-of-mouth recommendations from other booklovers as to what to read next, but when was the last time you picked up a recently released book by a local author? Where does one even go to find such books?

Local, oftentimes self-published, authors are the most impassioned, determined people around.  They are not just going door-to-bookstore door to sell their wares, they are sharing their stories – their brainchildren that have been birthed and nurtured for months, if not years. These authors will do whatever it takes to get their books into the right hands to increase the awareness and appeal to the broader masses. Many an author has passed through our bookstore doors, and I am so grateful they have. By making the personal connections with these talented, and persistent, authors, I have been introduced to literary adventures that I otherwise would not have embarked upon.

While some of the more tech-savvy self-published authors have their titles available through a multitude of online resellers, most rely on the local, brick and mortar bookstores within their community for help with signings and promotional efforts. Many independent bookstores feature a great assortment of titles written by local authors, from poetry to fiction to cookbooks – most of the time they have signed copies available. But don’t take my word for it, next time you’re in your community bookstore, ask one of the booksellers, they’d be happy to share these local treasures.

Some new releases by local authors worth the read.

Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson by Mike Freeman (non-fiction)

As controversial as it is comforting, Freeman’s narrative makes us think in hard ways about America as the country itself drifts toward an uncertain future. But throughout, of course, is the magnificent Hudson, whose resilient beauty speaks well both to nature’s toughness and America’s greatest strength–the ability to redirect and change course when necessary.

“In an era when the political Left and Right, the back-to-the-Pleistocene ecological purist, and the `drill, baby, drill’ zealot are at a divide far wider than the Hudson itself, Freeman shows how close observation, not only of nature but also of parenthood, citizenship, nation, and history, can reveal truths that bind us not merely as Americans but as a species. We’d all do well to follow his model.”
— Sydney Lea, author of Hunting the Whole Way Home

Sand Dollar: A Story of Undying Love, by Sebastian Cole (fiction) is an epic, heart-wrenching love story about the one who got away. It is best described as a romantic fantasy, kind of like The Notebook with a splash of The Sixth Sense. Similar to a Nicholas Sparks novel, but uniquely different, Sand Dollar is a thought-provoking, emotional read with real life situations that might even have you yelling at the main characters at times. And not only is it filled with plenty of twists and turns, but the ending will knock your socks off!

“Sand Dollar is one of those rare books that makes you feel, laugh and cry all at the same time. This smashing debut by Sebastian Cole reads like the best of Nicholas Sparks with just enough schmaltz. Moving and emotive, it’s every bit The Notebook done up for summer.” – Jon Land, bestselling author of Strong At The Break

The 13th Apostle, an original work by author Raina C. Smith (adult fiction/thriller), readers are compelled to review the choices they’ve made in their own lives to discover the path they’ve chosen to follow thus far; all in an effort to measure the worth of the human race.     

This masterful author takes her readers on a global journey to explore the true depth of the human spirit.  Set at the Vatican, Tibet, Nebraska and in Rhode Island, the dynamic but intensely challenged characters of The 13th Apostle reveal to readers the triumphant nature of mankind as well as his decided plunge to self-ruin. The 13th Apostle introduces readers to characters who possess the purest of heart and others who bring new meaning to the word diabolical!

The Italian Way (cookbook) by Teresa Bert

Teresa and her husband John got the idea for their book while chatting at a wedding with friends who were about to open an Italian Restaurant. Musings on menu yielded such a wealth of recipe ideas, the couple decided to do a cookbook of their very own. The Italian Way: Recipes from the Old Country, contains 61 recipes inspired by Teresa’s family traditions and experiences with Italian cooking. Her husband John did all the beautiful food photography for the book.

— Jennifer Massotti, OnlineRI

Lessons Learned in Writing My First Novel

Posted on December 22, 2012

I’m the type of guy who believes you can achieve anything you set your mind to, as long as you give it your all and don’t give up. So when I decided to write a novel, it didn’t matter to me that I had never done anything like that before. What mattered to me was that I had an amazing story looming in my head, a story that needed to be born. With no experience, training, or education in creative writing, I figured I’d pick up the skills along the way, which is exactly what happened. Besides, I thought, how hard could it be to write a book? Well, I’d soon find out.

What I thought would take a couple of months, took a couple of years. After five months of writing everyplace and everywhere, I finally reached the “finish line” of my manuscript – that magical day when you type, “THE END.” Okay, so I wrote a manuscript; now what? The first thing I did was to copyright it, followed by sending it out to those of my friends who read a lot. This worked out great, providing me with honest feedback in various aspects. Then it was back to rewriting the story, and when I was done, I rewrote some more. Next, I hired a professional to critique the story, who gave me invaluable advice, which meant more rewriting. I soon learned Lesson One in writing: writing is rewriting. There’d always be room for improvement.

By this point in time during this process, I felt that the story had risen to a level of brilliance. But what about my writing style and voice? It needed to be just as good as the best-selling authors’, because they don’t put an asterisk next to your name along with an explanation about your education. So I spent months combing through the manuscript, trying to bring the level of writing up to the level of the story.

When I felt I was ready, I tried soliciting literary agents with a one-page query letter, synopsis, and whatever their submission guidelines called for. Oh, did I mention the Catch 22 in traditional publishing? Apparently, you need a literary agent to get traditionally published. However, in order to get a literary agent, you need to have already been published. So it’s nearly impossible to get an agent unless you’re a famous celebrity, politician, sports figure, etc. Certainly, they’d give me more credence if I had a BFA or MFA in creative writing, which I had not. Like all roads to success, this one’s paved with rejection. And after tons of rejection letters from literary agents, I had a choice to make: give it up or step it up. Since giving up is not really in my vocabulary, I stepped it up.

So I hired an editor, and the first thing she did was to cross off 5,000 unnecessary words. For instance, you shouldn’t write, “run fast.” You should simply write, “run”, because obviously if you’re running, it’s fast. Who knew?? Besides copy-editing, my editor did developmental editing, too, telling me where the story needed to be improved. It was kind of like digging for treasure – she’d tell me where to dig, and I’d come up with something remarkable, as if she knew I had it in me before I ever did. I learned a lot simply by reading her edits and comments, and I became a better writer for it.

I had rewritten the manuscript time and time again for a period of two years, and in the process, I learned how to write. Looking back, I had no idea how long it was going to take or how hard it was going to be. Writing the manuscript, however, was the easy part. Navigating my way to a successful book, now that’s the hard part.

After getting the go-ahead from my editor, I hired a cover artist, designer, and formatter; and I was on my way to self-publishing my first novel, SAND DOLLAR: A Story of Undying Love. Now it was time to find out how good it really was. I set up a website,, entered contests, gave away free books to reviewers, and waited for the reviews to start coming in.

And the results? Well, the reviews have been mostly outstanding, with an average rating of 4.6 stars (out of 5 stars) on Amazon with over 60 reviews. People who have reviewed SAND DOLLAR have even called it the best love story they’ve ever read, with many of them comparing me to Nicholas Sparks. I was also a finalist in ForeWord Firsts debut literary competition for first-time authors. Who knew?!

But my greatest reward lies not in any number or rating. My greatest reward lies in the effect I’ve had on the lives of others through my writing. People who’ve read SAND DOLLAR, especially those who have lost a loved one, feel that the book was written just for them, as if the author expressed in words what they have always felt. One person wrote that the story “touched the very depths of her soul,” and she’ll “cherish the book forever.” She loved the book so much that she even had the book made into earrings!

I only wish more people knew about it so they could read it. I honestly feel the world would benefit, if they only knew… What I need is exposure. But how do I do that? It would be great if I had a YouTube video with millions of hits, or if Oprah were to pick SAND DOLLAR for her book club, but neither is likely to happen at the moment. So I sent out press releases to local newspapers and got a couple of articles written about me. I’ve done several book signings, and I’ve talked at different venues about my experiences. Despite my success, my book is currently only available online, not in bookstores, and very few people have ever heard of me.

So it’s back to the literary agents I go. I’ve somehow made it full circle. But will I have a different result now that SAND DOLLAR has gained traction? Stayed tuned to find out. Regardless of whether or not SAND DOLLAR ever makes it big, touching the lives of others through my writing has been the single most gratifying thing I have ever done in my life. And pursuing my dreams has made all of the difference.

Life’s a journey. I can’t see what lies ahead, but I know one thing for sure: when I look behind, I see the things that I’ve accomplished… and I smile with pride.

Sebastian Cole