Bed-Stuy resident Attika J. Torrence is producer of the six-part docu-series, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Series, which garnered him two Emmy nominations in 2018.
Now, the filmmaker has self-published a novel set in 90s Bed-Study entitled BROOKLYN BRED– A 90s Brooklyn Story. The coming-of-age loosely biographical novel centers on a young, college-educated Black man who falls on hard times and then finds his way back through the support of his friends and family.
The tale is based on “multiple true stories,” and he’s selling the first run of the novel as a special edition hardcover– which comes with a certificate of authenticity– for $100 each.
BK Reader spoke with Torrence about his pivot from filmmaker to novelist; the highs and lows of self-publishing, and his future plans.
BK Reader: What made you decide to change directions from filmmaking to writing?
Attika J. Torrence: I’ve written several screenplays. Filmmaking at the core is about storytelling. A novelist is a storyteller. The two technically are no different. The only thing is the medium. You’re writing one, while you’re shooting one. But it has to come from a script.
Writing a screenplay is fruitless labor if no one decides to invest in it, so I just decided to change the game. When we got nominated for two Emmys, I kept getting a lot of work sent my way that I didn’t like. So I kept turning work down. The thing about this industry is that when you turn work down, you start getting fewer calls.
I also had my own projects that I wanted to produce and get done. But it was taking a while longer. So, I said I’ll start doing something productive with my time so I started writing a book. I just wanted to write 100 pages. After a few months, I saw I had 300 pages, I had a book. I’m not just a filmmaker, I don’t want to be told what kind of artist I am. In a nutshell, it was just me taking my power and not relinquishing it.
BKR: You’re selling each copy for $100. Why?
AJT: For a lot of reasons. One was because I believe I have the audience to do so, and they’ve been selling quite a bit. Two, because I believe it’s important for us to set our own prices for our intellectual property. I didn’t ask anybody and I don’t barter. I’m selling this book more like a work of art, rather than a work of literature.
BKR: What was the process of self-publishing like?
AJT: I’m not a traditional novelist. I don’t have the academic backing that most novelists have. But at my core, I’m a storyteller. I wrote straight through, it took me a few months. The first thing I did was get [my draft] printed so I can feel it and see it. I tried getting in touch with editors and some gave me feedback I didn’t particularly like because they didn’t really know the story. This is a movie in literary form. The book is in landscape form because you film in landscape. So as you’re reading it the way it opens up, it opens like a movie. I brought up this point to say that one of the editors when I told her I wanted my book to be in landscape form, she told me three different times, that this isn’t how novels are written. That’s when I knew I wasn’t going to work with her.
Also, due to coronavirus, a lot of printing companies shut down, so I had to switch printing companies several times. I had 5 iterations of the book printed before I landed on one. Some of my friends were very helpful with information about the book world. So, going from an idea, to where it is now took an entire journey.
BKR: How have you been distributing these books during this pandemic?
AJT: Because it’s the special edition, I didn’t do a website and I’m not putting it out en masse. I’ve been selling solely through my network, by word of mouth. Other people are marketing it more than I am. They’re posting pictures of it and giving reviews. I’m grateful and humbled by the support. That’s what has been helping me. I’m sure 100 percent of the people who bought the book never paid $100 for a novel.
Before [COVID-19] happened, I had a lot of events scheduled. Because at a high price point, you can’t do random book signings. But now everything has to be done online. I’m not that much of a social media user, so now I have to figure out how to navigate these online events and get people engaged. I have copies in my van, so I’ve just been dishing them out that way.
BKR: What’s next?
AJT: A lot of things are on hold because of coronavirus. But I created my own publishing company called At The Top Publishing (ATTP). Nothing is online yet, because my book is the only product we have right now. But I have shirts with the name printed. I’m opening up another avenue.