I love words. I love diving deep into sentence structures, vocabulary, and the rhythm of one paragraph, flowing after another, page after page. Words can be powerful and gentle. They can be uplifting, instructive, and revealing. A page filled with letters grants me a gift I can’t find anywhere else… intellectual and emotional freedom. Books are a judgment-free zone where I am allowed my own interpretation of the message and even the silent mispronunciation of names, places, and magic spells. Words allow me to choose what I see rather than someone else dictating my vision. When reading, I get to decide when to take a “commercial break.” I can slow down when the pages become overwhelming. I can speed up when situations become exciting. Without losing my place, I can inhale deeply and take a few minutes to collect my thoughts or contemplate an outcome. There are no rules about reading below, at, or above my “reading level” (whatever that means). Without recrimination, I can set a book down and walk away if it becomes too sad, too angry, or too dull.
My lexicon is so much a part of who I am that I actually dream in words. It’s odd, I know. Instead of seeing the dreamscape in images, like the rest of the “normal” people of the world, my dreams appear in words. I read them as they are printed on a page or sometimes scrolling on a blank screen. We dream to interpret experiences and work out the stress of our waking lives. Words have always been my safe place, so it makes sense that I dream in words. I’ve never questioned it.
When I was a child, I escaped into a universe of books. Sunday afternoons, my family visited the library. It was a requirement to read at least one book per week. I often read four or five. When I was “caught” reading by my parents or a teacher, they were instantly distracted from any wrong I may have done and instead praised me for my “good choice.” At school, my teachers rewarded me for reading with free pizza coupons. At home, my parents encouraged reading. During long trips, I read in the car to avoid interacting with my older siblings. I was never reprimanded for too much time spent loitering in the library, bookshop, or even in front of the magazine rack at the grocery store. A love of reading gave me time without the intolerance of my parent’s “to do” list. Reading brought me peace.
I realized early on that writing was the thing that called to my soul. I started writing in second grade. I told stories to my friends on the playground and later put them on paper. I coveted silent reading time in class. I spent my summer vacation eagerly, willingly writing research papers at the library. I saw the card catalogue as a big treasure hunt, and Roget’s Thesaurus was the map. I wrote papers for friends in high school, not only to help them pass their classes but so that I could have the fun of exploring their ideas with my words. Yes, I was that kid. More than anything else in this world, books are where I find my home. Books are how I experience the texture of life. This is why I chose to become an editor.
An editor’s duty is to help writers wade through the frustrating bits. We point out the plot holes that need to be filled. We manage timelines and strengthen a writer’s talent to connect readers to characters with subtle dignity. It is our obligation to help maintain the author’s authentic voice while enticing the turn of each page with an appropriate pace. We maintain continuity of details and mask the effort of creation. Simply put, an editor makes the process of refining a book less daunting. I help writers whistle while they work, frolicking through the task of polishing the grammar and dusting away the cobwebs of a story to reveal its pure brilliance. And I love it.
I love conspiring with an author to flesh out their ideas. I love watching word choices change the meaning of a group of sentences as they march off to serve the hero or teach a lesson. I love the nourishment punctuation offers a story while helping a victim scream, a lover swoon, and a villain rage against a truth they would rather ignore. I love diving into symbolism as it serves a subplot. I love the anticipation of setting up a red herring that forces the reader to go back over the last six pages with the intoxication of reading them for the first time. There is nothing more satisfying to me than helping an author sculpt their thoughts in a way that is surprising, reaffirming, enchanting, or beguiling to a reader. The day is not wasted if I can offer my perspective, skills, and experience to help writers improve their stories.
The joy of becoming an author is not found in the final book on the shelf… although that is a happy moment worthy of celebration. The more profound pleasure lies in the creation of it. The fascination is in finding just the right word or turn of phrase. An adrenaline rush comes to the author when bringing a story to the pinnacle of tension and then teasing the reader with another twist. There is tremendous satisfaction in forcing a reader to wait until the end of a story to reveal a suspect, savor or suffer the commitment of love, or dangle a cliffhanger that tempts the next book in a series. Editors protect that rush.
My love for the written word, and my belief that all words, whether I agree with them or not, are sacred, led me to become a book editor. It takes a lot of courage to put our thoughts on the page. A vulnerability exists in writing that is rare and precious. I strive to help others who find comfort in words realize their dream of publication. I’ve worked with authors on all levels of experience, from novice to veteran. Mentoring an author as they find their voice and craft their stories is an exercise in wonderment. I’m honored that so many have trusted their work to my influence. I can’t imagine spending the hours of my life doing anything else.
I spend a lot of time with people who love books, authors, and readers. In almost every case, the conversations are positive, extolling the virtues of the written word and expressing our mutual love of story. However, I’ve recently encountered something new. Okay, maybe it’s not new, but these conversations seem more prevalent. It appears that some “book people” are dividing into separate camps, either validating or decrying a particular reading method. Some readers claim that “real books” are the only proper path to literacy. They lust after the “real” aroma of the ink and the feel of the pages in their hands. Opponents remind of the weight and fragility of paper books. Some vehemently decry E-books. They claim that pixels on a screen are only shadows of actual books. They say reading this way is cheating the reader out of a valid reading experience. Enthusiasts of E-books claim that the ease of accessibility makes them more infatuating than paper. Still, others argue that listening to Audiobooks isn’t really reading at all. At the same time, Audiobook devotees remind that they’d never read a thing if not for the multi-tasking merits of Audiobooks.
Encountering these comments has made me consider my own path to my reading practice and why I read the way I do.
I have a photograph of myself, snuggled in bed with a book and a stuffed dog. I was about fifteen months old when my mother took the photo. I learned the magic of story at a very young age. It was one of the best gifts my parents gave me. I memorized the books my family read to me long before I understood how the writing code could be cracked. Story was my constant companion. Even before I could read, I always had a book nearby. They were my favorite toys. As soon as I could talk, I’m told, I began creating my own tiny adventures to share with my siblings.
At four years old, I lost the hearing in my left ear due to an illness. Through the frustrating years of speech therapy and dissecting body language to help me interpret the mumbles, I learned to navigate the world differently than other kids. Although I couldn’t perceive music or language the way everyone else could, the written word offered the promise of possibility. Each piece of cardboard held between its two flaps vibrant worlds filled with remarkable people and animals who could talk to me… even though I couldn’t see their lips moving.
As I grew, words became my sanctuary in moments of sadness, anger, and joy. I discovered the opportunity of a level playing field where my hearing loss didn’t matter. Inside the world of pages, my friends and I were equal. Life exploded with color and movement, and none of it relied on the precision of sound. It was spectacular. Elementary school was joyful for me. While other kids had to be coaxed into reading with the promise of free pizza coupons, the only motivation I needed was the librarian’s assurance that a book would be “a fun read.”
As I grew older, I went to sleepovers at friends’ houses and then to “sleep away” camp. I rediscovered the wonder of storytelling without the pages. We huddled in blanket forts and sat around campfires sharing adventures. We engaged our imaginations with the “what if” game, retelling old stories with our own twists or making up brand new ones. At night, I nestled under my blankets with a flashlight and wrote down all that I could remember. I regret that I’ve lost those pages to time… but I’m grateful that I paid attention. For it was in those early years that my writing journey began.
In middle school, I was the kid with her nose in a book while walking down the hall from one class to the next (no, I never bumped into anyone). During my lunch hour, I read while others were gossiping about young teenage things. I was too busy to care, as I went on adventures with Alice In Wonderland, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and The Brothers Grimm. I traveled with National Geographic and tried to understand adult things with U.S. News & World Report. The library became my favorite “Fortress of Solitude,” and I spent hours digging through the endless rows of books. I was the odd kid who saw the card catalogue as clues to a wondrous treasure hunt. During summer vacation, I asked my parents to give me a topic, and I spent hours at the library doing research for papers that would never be graded. Writing them filled my time. Yes, I was that kid. Of course, I also spent hours riding my bike with my friends… we nearly always ended up at the library. And, sure, I also went to the city swimming pool with my friends on hot summer afternoons, but I almost always took along a book. After all, what else was there to do during those fifteen minutes of every hour designated as “adult-only swim”?
In high school, I encountered an amazing transformation of the written word in the form of the theatre. Stage plays are a brand of storytelling magic unique to this world. It takes wizards and witches to make those words come alive… more so, I believed (and still do) than in film and television, precisely because the audience's energy changes the words at every performance. I fell hard into the scripts of William Shakespeare, Anne Frank, Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon, and John Steinbeck. I was provoked by the differences between the words written on the page versus those acted upon the stage… and I rejoiced in the similarities. I discovered a new way to read and write, a new way to become gloriously overwhelmed by story.
When my son was born, I revived the joy of reading aloud, for him and for me. For each book I bought for my son at the Scholastic Book Fair, I also purchased the accompanying “book on tape.” Audiobooks became our entertainment in the car on long trips and his reward for going to bed on time (staying up “late” to listen to just one more story). Like a story presented on the stage, there is a unique cadence to a book shared only through the voice. Memory triggers of childhood emotion and understanding are reawakened when the vibration of the voice plays upon the air without the aid of visual interpretation or even the letters from which it was born. Storytellers add their own expressions to the tale. Each reader will offer something new to the listener, even if the words have been read or heard a thousand times before. Think of the difference between hearing Neil Gaiman reading his work versus some other voice reading Neil Gaiman’s work. The story is different simply because the reader becomes a part of the story they are telling. It cannot be avoided, nor should it be. Each story will reach a listener differently, depending on the voice who delivers it.
Now that my son has grown and I’m enjoying the second half of my lifetime, I’m still enthused by books and writing. I honor the written word as sacred, no matter what form it comes in. Whether a paper book, magazine, Audiobook, podcast, or E-book… all of it is valid to me. Each has its place within the delivery of story, and each has its own moment of convenience. I still read paper books and magazines curled up with the dogs on the couch. I also love audiobooks, E-books, and podcasts to fill my time when doing chores around the house, while traveling, or at nighttime, just before sleep. None is more precious to me than the other. None is less important. I don’t judge another reader for their choices in material or delivery… as long as people read, that’s enough for me.
So I say, read. Take in every word… whether printed, pixeled, or spoken. Immerse yourself in books and in the tradition of storytelling. Which way is the best way to do that? I don’t think it matters. Just share the wonderment of reading with everyone you encounter. Honoring the written word, no matter how you find it, will enhance your experience of life and theirs. That much I know to be true.
Migrating my way through the world as a writer has never been hard for me. From my duckling days, I knew that writing stories was what I was supposed to do. But to say that it wasn’t work… well, that would be a deception of pterodactyl proportions.
I began as a tiny, timid vocabulary junkie. I worked hard to shake the gooey red pen edits from every paper I’d ever written in high school and college, believing that if I just put in enough effort, I’d figure out what direction I was supposed to go next. I was told that eventually, after I learned all the rules, I’d be able to break them and find my own way. This was not tremendously helpful advice, but it was inspiring. So, with the encouragement of my mentors, I pushed off the shell fragments of a newly hatched storyteller.
I had a lot of enthusiasm in the beginning. But enthusiasm alone isn’t enough. There is a natural process to becoming a novelist, and to deny the challenges only makes the turbulence more intense.
As most writers do, I began stumbling on wobbly legs as I learned to balance story, structure, trope, and character. Then, in a little while, I became a bit stronger. The downy fluff of purple prose began to cover my boney story skeletons, and I began to enthusiastically peck my way through the metaphors. Over time, I started to learn which seeds of discontent will fuel my characters toward story arcs that might captivate a reader’s interest. This was a long and arduous process. Too long. Sometimes, it still is. I scratched my way over paths lined with nuggets of inspiration and kernels of distress. Not every sentence lends itself well to a story. From time to time, I needed to kick the persnickety ones aside and hope they would appear useful in my next draft. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I continued to work at it, testing and retesting every bend of wing until I felt like maybe I had something worth reading.
I emerged from my writing nest with material that made me look a little bit more like a swan and a bit less like an ugly duckling. World building made more sense and characters fleshed out more like real people than paper cut-outs. Of course, I still had lots of spikes of “Oh My Gosh! What was I thinking?” moments, but that’s to be expected. As any new flyer will tell you, there will be a few false starts when listening to instinct. Not every duck does it right the first time; just ask Ping.
I began to test the waters of critique by sharing bits and pieces of my stories with other writers. I submitted pieces on spec to newspapers, literary magazines, and whoever had a newsletter looking for content. It’s a strange thing, to fly with confidence through your journey and then open yourself up to a course correction. I found it difficult to know what praise to listen to and what admonishment to ignore. Finally, I decided that imitating the authors who traveled successfully along a similar flight path I intended to take made the most sense. So, I followed them through their writing, learning as best I could by their example. I still do.
I took classes, workshops, and mentoring sessions with other authors, hanging on their words of experience because, of course, they already knew how to fly. Sometimes, I was cheered for my tenacity and creativity. Other times, I was scorned for my inability to meet the expectations of more experienced writers. I did my best to let the negative comments roll off my back and realigned myself, wings tucked neatly at my side, diving deeper into my craft.
As my writing practice grew stronger, I began to shift my understanding of the thermodynamics of storytelling. I stretched my story and character arcs, reaching for higher altitudes, taking bigger risks in subplots, and the ideas of genre mixing and bending. There were times when what I wrote was simply outrageous and ridiculous. Other times, it was just bad. Sometimes it still is. I think that's necessary. Through that daily practice of allowing whatever floated into my sky to make it to my page, I taught myself patience. I took the time to devise new ways to make faster dives into tension and gentler glides through romance.
But even as I was plotting a new flight path toward what I was certain would be literary success, submissions were returned to me, mocking my aspirations and delivering gut-wrenching blows of rejection, time and again. But sometimes not. Sometimes, my work was welcomed, praised, and published for the world to read.
At last, I found my nest within a supportive community of Indies. I became comfortable inside a flock of readers who recognize and appreciate that I’ve outgrown my fluff. Now, I have more beautiful transitions and dialogue that lay together, drawing readers in to touch the delicate silk plumage of my stories. Okay, perhaps I’m not yet perfectly fluff-less, but I’m getting better at it. I practice flying in and out of story every day and trust those just as committed as me to occasionally take point and lead the way across the mid-day sky.
The euphoria of finding my place among literary clouds didn’t last, though. Too soon, I was forced to begin again, traveling to another community of Indies, to share my work with readers who haven’t yet discovered me. I'm guessing that the pang of that risk will never get any easier. I suffer tremendous anxiety while traveling abroad. When I began this migration from writer to author, no one told me how exhausting it would be. They didn’t mention how challenging it would be to believe in myself, in my work, and fight off the vultures of imposter syndrome, simply to keep my stories alive. I thought that the actual writing would be the hard part of this journey, not the rest of it.
But I refuse to give up. I suffer through the change in seasons year after year, migrating toward new sunny shelf space, with new readers and new opinions of my work. I push through the doubt and frustration because I believe in the strength of story and the importance of the journey of creation. I continue to take the risk in relocation, in both genre and audience, to fulfill that instinctive call from my creative nature. But, for odd ducks like me, ignoring the quiet voice that pushes me to repeat my flight patterns across the literary landscape, year after year, can be difficult.
As difficult as it is… I would rather fly through the anguish of growth than become grounded by the stagnation of the denial of story.
The process of story creation can be explained as a sphere of creation. It is a process where ideas form and are passed from imagination to hand and back again with relentless attention until the story is complete. Then we pass it along to the reader with the hope we’ve entertained them for a short time.
When we begin writing, our story sphere begins like a ball of clay. It’s lumpy and malformed. Sometimes, it doesn’t even look round. Often it starts out egg-shaped or conical more than spherical. Small protrusions may develop with the slight sculpturing movement of just a few fingers. These may round out into something that blends with the rest of the story, or they may fall away entirely. It is realistic to understand that not everything that is created is used well at first glance. If small pieces fall away, we allow them to rest on the floor next to the turntable. But we never abandon them. Instead, we pick them up from time to time, tucking them away in a small box for later use. Perhaps they will fit better into the next story sphere we create. One never knows how small pieces of one sculpture may enhance another.
After completely forming our sphere of story, we narrow its profile and scoop out the stagnant middle. This makes it travel more easily from one plot twist to the next. As with a chase wheel, we poke at it, prod at it, and keep nudging it along on its path toward wonderment. We keep the momentum going, else it will crash and fall flat. As everyone knows, it’s quite tricky to get a wheel spinning again once it’s gone flat. However, momentum doesn’t always equate to speed. Sometimes it just means moving the story onward with tenacity. We are careful to pace ourselves so as not to tire too quickly or slag along without interest. We may craft our story slower up hills, faster down hills, and we rest, taking the pace more gently in between. Once we find our rhythm, we relax into the journey, flowing more easily with the uneven patches of the path. We rejoice in the distance we’ve come, and with good reason. It’s not a simple thing, keeping a story sphere moving forward. It requires a strength many don’t realize they have until The End stares back at them from a stack of paper. After measuring out the distance in words, lines, paragraphs, and pages, we celebrate a bit, resting with our achievements under the shade of respite provided by a first draft well written.
When we feel confident in the journey we’ve traveled and the comfortable completion of our story sphere, we hand it off to editors, proofreaders, and beta readers. The courage required to do this is unrivaled by even the greatest of superheroes. These kind-hearted souls, our mentors of modification, hold our story gently, ascribing the proper reverence to an endeavor crafted with equal parts love and imagination. Then, as they would a Magic 8 Ball, they ask questions, timidly at first, turning our story over in their hands… “What if?” The answer returns, “Very doubtful.” They make notes in the margins. Then, with more confidence this time, they ask, “Can this be believed?” The answer returns, “You may rely on it.” A sigh of relief is released into the air. It was a breath you didn’t realize you were holding. More notes, more questions, like riding a teeter-totter of story maturity, this tribe of dedicated story souls examines the work for areas of improvement and excellence with equal consideration. The process lingers as we patiently wait, trusting the sandpaper and polish of literary opinions. Finally, the last question is asked, “Will this end well?” The answer returns, “Don’t count on it.” Scribbles appear in underlined crimson or capitalized cobalt across our pages, requiring us to dig deeper, uncover more, share secrets without giving away too much. We retreat to our desk, taking this valuable insight with us. We concentrate on the refinement, repeating the steps of sculpture, pacing, and momentum until our pages are returned free from questions, scribbles, and requests for more enhancement.
At last, when our story sphere meets the expectations of quality, we enclose it delicately, like a snow globe, with a cover of protection, and send it to rest on the shelves of the world’s readers. Each, in turn, cradles it gently in their hands, turning it this way and that, watching how each flake of detail lands on the scenes inside. Each reader discovers a new perspective of the story, as they enjoy our gift from a fresh angle. Some are captivated with character, some with the sequence of plot. Others find themselves mesmerized by the dance of pacing or the music of dialogue that wraps around the story sphere, binding it together until the very end. When at last, the gentle snowflakes of the story have settled upon the foundation of the last scene, each reader embraces a message distinctive to them. Each reader’s gentle perspective of life, love, and imagination meld with what the writer provides to create art unique to their experience. This is as it should be, for art is preciously different for each admirer.
For any who take the time to get to know us, they will find that Community Service work is extremely important to Drake (my muse) and me. My middle grade book, “The Griffin of Greed”, is based on this one idea that doing acts of community service, regularly, far outweighs the collection of material “stuff” or wealth. Wealth is simply a tool to help others, and stuff, well, it just means you’ve got more to dust. I’m not advocating taking a vow of poverty, or retooling to a minimalistic lifestyle. What I am advocating is the concept of emotional “tithing” in one way or another, as you walk through your daily life.
I admit freely that I’m not a wizard at volunteering. I know I could do much more. I’m a highly sensitive and empathetic person, and because of that, sometimes, volunteering in person can be emotionally and physically draining for me. My heart breaks easily, and it takes me longer than most to recover. I’ve donated time to animal shelters, children’s groups, senior centers, and even to cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Afterward, I found it difficult to re-center myself and give to those who depended on me. So, I had to find another way to serve my community yet protect myself from the pull on my personal resources, which threatened my energy reserves that are devoted to my family and close friends. This is when I came up with the idea to serve from a distance. To use what I do well, and what I know others do well, to make a difference without depleting my emotional and energetic resources.
Enter the community service anthology. Collections of poems, stories, and essays donated by writers from everywhere imaginable, focused on serving others. Yes, BOOKS. This is one of the main focuses that drives the work of my company, Pages Promotions.
We believe a more harmonious and supportive society begins with literacy. We believe that a successful life begins with, and is enhanced by, the written word. We believe that not everyone is able or inclined to pick up trash by the side of the road or give blood or donate financially in order to contribute to the well-being of their community. We know there must be a positive alternative. We believe one alternative is the Power of The Pen!
To support the needs of various charities, and to give writers a place to share their talent and creativity, we have created a Community Service Anthology Project Program. Two or three times per year, we offer enticing prompts that, when multiple authors contribute, results in a stunning book, created from our combined creative energies. Writers of every age, stage, and (nearly) every genre are welcome to submit! We offer novice and experienced writers alike, the opportunity to join together to create a force to be reckoned with... shared experience through the written word. Student contributors are offered community service certificates to help them achieve their graduation requirements while investigating the potential of their imagination.
One of the things that gives the pursuit of writing meaning is the impact our words have on the lives of others. What we write, whether real or imagined, can, and often does, spark tremendous connectivity with readers. Words give others permission to feel, learn, and understand points of view or concepts that perhaps they would not have encountered, had they not picked up a book.
Works of charity, we believe, are essential to the empathetic, evolutionary path humanity must travel if it is going to sustain and prevail throughout the next seven generations, and beyond. Without the goal of improving literacy standards the world over, our society is doomed to fail. An illiterate population hinders every aspect of a country's development... it's economy, agriculture, industry and manufacturing, arts, sciences, technology, and most importantly, governing. A society that lacks basic literacy skills is threatened by terrorists, despots, and, most tragically, apathy.
To meet this goal, we have two projects currently open for submissions. The first is a “By The Seat Of Our Pants” novel titled, “Chaos”. This is a collaborative writing project that allows authors to work together to complete one full novel. Imagine a gaggle of authors, selected in random order, each writing a single chapter of a continuing story. No one knows all the characters involved, how the story will tangle, or how it will end. We are currently in the middle of writing the first edition of this series, “Madness”, and we’re having a lot of fun with it! The proceeds from sales of this book will benefit The World Literacy Foundation and their mission to grow individuals and communities through the written word. For writers who are interested in joining the project, they can visit our website to sign up to participate. The sign up deadline is January 30, 2022, and we’ll hold an organizational meeting via Zoom on February 4, 2022 to discuss the project in detail, take questions, and select the writing order.
The second of our community service projects currently open for submissions is a book called “Rainy Day Love”. This is a collection of short stories, poems, and anecdotal essays written inside the theme of “Love”, and based on the following prompt: "A gift is received from an anonymous someone. The note enclosed reads, ‘For A Rainy Day.’" Proceeds from sales of this book will support The Hailey Sue Foundation. This fabulous organization works to uplift the community with the vision of a young woman who believed in kindness above all else. They offer special events, volunteer programs, scholarship programs, and community outreach with service as their passion, following the legacy of a young woman who loved without limits. The submission deadline for this project is February 28, 2022. All the details are available for interested writers on our website.
We have also published two other books, “Simple Things”, a collection of poems and essays of isolated gratitude, written in the time of COVID; and “Monster Hunter Intern”, a collection of flash fiction short stories. Both of these books are available on Amazon, and the proceeds serve The World Literacy Foundation. We also have a third collection of flash fiction titled, “The Portrait of Herbert Losh” which is in production for an expected release date of February 15, 2022. Proceeds from this book will also serve The World Literacy Foundation.
If, like Drake and me, you believe that community service and literacy are equally important in their power to move life forward, then I hope you will consider taking a few minutes to become involved in one of these projects. The words you share could have tremendous impact on another’s soul… and your own.
I've been working on the new edition of my romance novel, A Tryst of Fate, lately. I'm tightening the prose, reformatting the interior, adding to scenes, catching the typos, and designing a new cover. As I’ve done with the others, I’m republishing the old work, under my Pages Promotions imprint… for legacy’s sake, and legal control. Writing is a business, after all, and these things must be considered.
As I was working yesterday, I was caught quite by surprise with the strong emotion of one particular chapter... and then a second. Different emotions, both were equally powerful.
I think it’s an interesting thing, going back through my work from several years ago. This book was initially published in 2016, so it’s been five years since I’ve actually read the story in it's entirety. Once I finish a book and release it into the wild, I rarely go back to reread it, as a reader might. Usually, I’m focused on the marketing plan, and writing next project. I don’t usually stand back and stare at my work, the way a painter might.
Of course, I remember the story, the characters, the plot progression, where the twists are introduced, and how they are resolved… but I forgot about the emotions. I forgot that when I wrote this book, I was drawing on the memories of personal experiences and moments in time… my time. I included many of my own wishes, hopes, dreams, pieces of the people I knew, and the reality of life as I understood it then. I forgot just how powerful it can be when I use those fragments of my own life in my work. Certainly, I do that with every project I write. The book I’m working on now, for instance, which I started in November (my NaNoWriMo project) has tremendous emotion, favorite places, tinges of people I know, and strong memories…but…
As an author, when I’m in the middle of creation, I’m living fully in that moment. I don’t always know, cognitively, where I come up with my ideas, or how I fashion my characters. Even as a Passionate Plotter, I can’t always be certain how a particular feeling or movement will show up in my work. Most of the details, I leave up to Drake, and simply allow his intuition to emerge on the page. I try not to interfere too much with that stuff. In several cases, I’ve looked back on my work during the polish phase, and found myself asking, “When did I write that?” Knowing full well, it was the Duck’s intervention, and I had very little to do with it.
Then, through the editing, I’m disconnected, looking more for mistakes and making corrections… dissecting it piece by piece, ignoring the forest for the trees. I put a microscope on my work, and fine tune every nuance. I detach. It’s important work. It needs to be done this way, to connect the pieces, and tie up the ends. Continuity conflicts can only be caught in this micro examination of the work, because my brain is so good at mushing everything together the way my teachers taught me to read, filling in the holes automatically. So, I touch through the leaves, one by one, forgetting how majestic the forest can be, when taken acre by acre.
Through this process, I sometimes forget the impact my work can have on the reader. Yes, I want to provide them with a great story, an afternoon, or perhaps several afternoons, of wonderment and escape into our imagination, mine and the Duck’s. And yet, I think, sometimes, I forget to revisit that space myself. I’m often so concerned with making sure it’s done right… I forget how right it already is.
So, if you find that my next books take a bit longer to release than is “expected” it is because I’m allowing myself to transform back into a reader first. I want to truly absorb my work’s affect to be sure it aligns with my work’s intent. If the story stirs questions, emotions, surprise, and wonder in me… that’s when I know it’ll be ready for readers… and the Duck can move on to the next project.
Although, in truth, I have zero control over the little quacker, and that’s not such a bad thing, either.
For those who might be wondering… the new edition of A Tryst of Fate should be released by month’s end. I'll post something on social media, when it's available.
This morning, in one of the Facebook groups I follow, I saw a post, reminding authors about the (primarily monetary) risks involved in self-publishing a book. I’ll show you what was posted, and then share with you my impressions. The post read:
“Have you calculated how much you might spend to self-publish your book?
It was difficult for me to clearly understand if the writer of this post was working to encourage authors to have a clear and realistic expectation of what self-publishing costs, and make sure that they knew what they were getting into before they began… offering them a supportive “checklist of preparedness”.
Or, was the writer of the post trying to persuade authors that self (we call it Independent) publishing was the wrong solution? There wasn’t any additional commentary to go with this list, so it was difficult to fully understand the intent of the writer. The post could certainly be interpreted either way.
I sat for a moment, and re-read the post about four times. Sometimes contemplating such things without adequate cocoa first thing in the morning can be challenging for me. But after ruminating on the list for a little bit, this thought came to me…
I have gained so many things in life, because I chose to Independently publish my books over the past ten years. The gains I have realized, I feel, are incalculable.
So, out of my experience as a self-published author, and a mentor to others who choose that path, I postulated from a different point of view.
Have you calculated what it might cost to NOT self-publish your book?
1. The death of a dream because the threat of a financial loss got in the way of creative possibility.
How many times have we stopped doing something we were passionate about simply because there was a financial investment, and a risk of losing money? Is the money really more important to us than realizing a dream?
2. Lost opportunities to lead by example and encourage others.
How often do we simply pay lip service to the “I have a dream” ideals, but ignore our own opportunity? Do we lead by example, even though it may be risky, and thereby encourage others to do the same… or do we play it safe and rip from their eyesight the chance to see what could be, if only they follow their passion?
3. Invalidation of a network of professionals who specialize in supporting authors.
How might we be invalidating the work of others who support the brave ones who do walk the tenuous line to Independently publish? If we say “don’t do it, don’t take the risk, you’ll lose too much money;” aren’t we also saying, "those who are offering to help you aren’t really professionals, and can’t provide the services you need with integrity and excellence?"
4. Missed opportunities to meet new friends (and perhaps fans) at shops, conventions, fairs, and festivals.
Is everything we do truly connected to the almighty dollar, so intrinsically that we cannot see the benefit of taking the time to cultivate new friends, colleagues, and perhaps fans through our creative works? Do we truly want to sacrifice the value community offers to our personal growth because the decimal point is in the wrong place?
5. Nagging resentment from the “if only I had…” voice in your head.
Once a dream or a goal is forsaken, can we ever justify the resentment we feel as acceptable collateral damage in lieu of maintaining a targeted bank balance? When meeting the implacable wall of a finite existence, will we be comforted, knowing that the choice we made not to Independently publish saved a few percentage points on our portfolio?
6. The lost potential for revenue because you lacked the courage to try.
If we never plant seeds, if we never focus on a goal, if we never invest the sweat equity, how can we ever expect to realize success? For those who never ask the question, the answer will always be ‘no’. For those who never invest, the bank balance will never see remarkable growth.
Is following the dream of Independent Publication easily attainable and/or inexpensive? No.
But for me, it is priceless.
Since I published my first book in 1993, I've been confused about the return policy our industry seems to accept. Now, several years down the road, I'm still having problems wrapping my brain around it. It is what it is, but I think it can better serve both Authors and Booksellers if we agreed to share the risk of returns.
According to the IngramSpark.com website...
"Historically, publishers grant booksellers the right to return unwanted and/or overstocked copies of books. These books are considered “returnable.” As books are returned, booksellers expect to be reimbursed for the cost (i.e. their purchase price) of any books they return.
"When you set up a new title in IngramSpark, you'll be required to select a returns option and will have 3 to choose from:
Why? Don't booksellers understand that being an author is risky enough? Don't they understand that authors are struggling to be successful? Since booksellers need books to stay open, one would think that they would bend over backward to help authors, not the opposite. Okay, enough whining.
The fact of the matter is, booksellers and authors have a symbiotic relationship. Booksellers will be forced to close their doors without the books we write, and authors need a place for readers to discover our work. Any intelligent person would be confused as to why an animal continually tries to rip off it's own head. It makes no sense.
Sure, I understand that booksellers take a risk in giving up their shelf's real estate to an unknown, unproven author's book. Books are not widgets. They are very specific pieces of subjective art, not only in the creation, but in the admiration. Marketing strategies change with each new title, and there is zero predictability about whether or not a book will do well. I understand the risk. As a veteran Indie Bookshop General Manager, I promise you, I get it. But booksellers aren't the only ones taking a risk.
The author is also taking a huge risk. Often times, I think that risk is either ignored or set aside, and I think it's important to remind... Books are valuable. Really great stories, memoirs, histories, explorations of our planet, advice, and instruction are not simply created out of a few pieces of paper, some cardstock, and ink. It takes months, sometimes years to write a book... longer if there are illustrations, photographs, charts, graphs, or research citations. Books are created out of an individual's heart, imagination, and resourcefulness. Books are art, not things that appear out of a robotic assembly line, or haphazardly produced on sweatshop floors by abused, underpaid workers. Books are exclusive in creation. No two are exactly alike. In fact, they can't be, by law - that would be plagiarism.
Authors risk everything about who they are to write a book. They risk their after "day job" free time, their self-esteem, their sleep, and sometimes, the marginalization of their families, as they write. But not only that... Independent Authors, especially, risk a lot of money in the process of writing a book. Editors, illustrators, cover designers, website designers, marketing experts, distribution fees, inventory, travel expenses (for festivals, speaking engagements, or bookshop appearances)... it really adds up. There is not only a big emotional and intellectual risk, but a huge financial risk when one makes a decision to write a book. If there wasn't, Traditional publishers wouldn't require "recoupment" before distributing royalties to authors.
On top of all that... booksellers expect full recovery for their risk, which means the author's risk is greater, still. You see, if a bookseller can't sell a book, they are permitted to return it to the distributor for a full refund PLUS shipping. I believe the return time is 180 days... that's SIX FULL MONTHS! Who eats that loss? The bookseller only loses a little bit of shelf space and perhaps some new "local author" stickers (if they're really nice). So, who's left to eat the loss? Not the distributor (in this case, IngramSpark). They've already been paid by the author to print the book and send it to the bookseller, so they don't lose anything.
So that leaves, you guessed it... the author. They are required to absorb all the costs of that loss. What's worse is that if the books are returned, the author must take the loss of the cost of the books, and the shipping from the bookseller to the distributor. Add insult to injury, these books are now considered "used", not "new". Oh, the author will get them back (but the distributor will charge the author again for shipping). However, because they are now considered "used" inventory, they are going to be especially difficult to sell, even on consignment.
There is another option... the author can request that the returned books be destroyed, then the author is spared the cost of the shipping... but they've lost those books and the cost to print them. Not paying shipping is little comfort when you consider everything an author has to go through to release a book out into the wild world.
Authors live under the constant threat of a double-edged sword. Between the creative energy to write, plus the financial risk to publish and distribute, it's a wonder any of us actually write and publish more than one book.
I think it's time we all embrace a new promise of integrity... some modicum of trust between the bookseller and the author. Why do we have to be in constant competition with one another? Why can't we rejoice in the fact that we are blessed to be working in an industry that feeds our souls and also improves our society? For without the written word in a readily accessible format, the power of choice over our own destiny will be relegated to the few left on Earth who can read and print books. Do we really want to return to a history where only the rich elite can read and write... and the remaining population must simply "go along" because we are deprived of books?
I have an idea for a solution. I envision a compromise between Booksellers, Authors, and Distributors that acknowledges that we're all in this industry to lift each other up, not compete against one another. We're in this industry to enhance the world's library, and strengthen world literacy toward creating a more advanced humanity, with diversity and empathy for everyone involved... Right?
So, here's my thought... Why can't we establish a system of returns that is mutually beneficial? When an author independently publishes, they can choose to allow a limited number of returned books within a more reasonable time frame, say three months (doesn't the rest of the world work on a quarterly basis?). The number of returnable books would be at the author's discretion, or perhaps within a negotiation between booksellers and authors, but never open-ended. If a bookseller wants to order more than the threshold return maximum, they can do that... but those extra copies won't be returnable.
If a bookseller determines that the book isn't selling to their satisfaction, they can then instigate the return, according to the limits negotiated in the distribution contract, with the forward shipping the responsibility of the distributor, the return shipping the responsibility of the bookseller, and the shipping from the distributor to the author of returned copies at the author's responsibility. This keeps the bookseller's risk manageable and doesn't overrun their shelves with unsold inventory while also alerting them to an author who may not be a good fit for their customer base. This "trial run" opportunity offers the bookseller a chance to gauge the buyer's inclination to purchase future books by a particular author, which may impact the bookseller's future marketing plans with far less liability.
In fact, this "limited quantity, early preview period" may give booksellers a greater advantage to arrange reading events with authors who are in higher demand, thus improving the shop's marketing momentum. Once an author is established as "worthy" (which means the bookseller actually sells at least the maximum return threshold), the next logical expectation would be that the author is one a bookseller can rely on to have a reader base, and therefore, future books written by the author would not be eligible for returns because the author would be considered "sale-able."
This arrangement also respectfully manages the author's loss. As long as an author has a clear understanding as to the number of books that may be returned, they can better plan for a failed distribution of a particular title. Authors can either plan to have that "unsold/used" inventory returned to them so that they can sell those copies at fairs and festivals at a discounted rate, or perhaps use those books as part of a giveaway program to augment their marketing goals, donate them to Little Free Libraries, schools or public libraries... or they can choose to take the complete loss on that small number of books, and have the copies destroyed.
Regardless, in this proposal, everyone is given the opportunity to manage their own risk, and their own loss, within a reasonable period of time so that they can plan for future contingencies. I believe this idea is a viable solution that supports the entire industry without the Authors suffering the brunt of a failed title distribution endeavor.
It's thoughts like these that make me wish I had more of a "political fire" in my belly; but I just don't. I'm a passionate Indie Author Advocate, and I would love to see a change in this area of our business... but I don't have the skills, patience, legal understanding, financial war chest, nor influence to realize the change I can imagine. I wish I did. But, that's simply not one of my strengths. So, for the time being, I will have to live with what is, along with all the other Indie Authors.
If anyone would like to build on this idea and implement a program, organize a lobby group, draft a petition, schedule a town hall meeting, develop a Kickstarter campaign, etc... I'm ready to be a participant and strong supporter - send me an email, and I'll do what I can to assist. I'm just not qualified to spearhead and create continuous momentum for such an undertaking. Until someone out there becomes a champion for this cause, I'll be waiting in the wings, figurative sword at the ready, pen in hand.
I'm not sure this happens in other "industries", but we hear the word "tribe" tossed about a lot in creative circles. Social media is filled with inspirational memes about finding one's tribe and relishing in the camaraderie of those people who you discover as "kindred". There is a large, seemingly never-ending collection of memes illustrating the urgency in finding your tribe and embracing the comfort of their closeness.
I wonder, though, do those meme makers really understand the concept of finding one's tribe, or properly cherishing them?
I wonder because I thought, several years ago, that I understood what it meant. I have learned recently, though, that I really didn't.
I thought that my tribe was made up simply of people who read a lot, wrote a fair amount, and enjoyed book time over screen time. You know, "hobby" people. The "Let's get coffee and talk about books and writing" people; the "That's a snazzy book cover" people; and the "Over-spending at the bookstore is fun" people. We enjoyed similar pastimes, engaged in similar social environments, and laughed at the same quirky, odd things. We indulged loudly in conversations that might make us seem a little weird to passersby. And we were okay with that. We could easily stand side by side in public without the need for a disguise. We were comfortable in each other's company.
While all of that is quite true about the literary and creative community with whom I spend most of my time, I have discovered that my tribe lives in a cave that goes much deeper than simple comfort. The place where my tribe hangs out would rival The Pantom's secret Skull Cave; and only Batman would be cunning enough to find it.
My tribe is comprised of exceptional people who inhale ideas and exhale words, sometimes vomiting on the page, just like me. These are people who can spend at least an hour describing the aroma of the antiquarian bookshop they visited last week, and never feel self-conscious about the discussion. They regularly indulge in conversations with each other's imaginary friends, and help them plan road trips through the next story. These people care so deeply about their created worlds that they live in them when the real world isn't looking. They spend hours a day delving into the brains, and hearts, and souls of the characters they discover lingering someplace deep inside them... in a place "normal" people tend to avoid because it's very messy and too much isn't easily explained.
Never once do they regret the opportunity to dissect the twinges of intellect, emotion, and fantasy that they may... or would never... step through in real life. Nor do they resent the others who choose not to go along on the exploration. They simply go ahead, anyway.
My tribe forgives my foibles and helps me laugh at my own inconsistencies, all while helping me grow out of them. They genuinely comfort me when I'm ill, and refuse to allow me to apologize for being human, or alien (whichever it may be that day). They understand me on a level that most don't dare to investigate because there is no reliability in the nearly rotted out planks upon which I walk, and the light can sometimes plays tricks with the shadows. Still, my tribe stands by as sentries, encouraging my every step as I scrutinize myself and my craft. My tribe never holds me hostage for the mistakes... or successes of my past, nor do they secret ransom notes under the table of my confidence in order to coerce my future. They are authentic and altruistic of heart, and they allow me the same indulgences without fear of harm or embarrassment. They know who they are.
My tribe is a gift of this life that I treasure... so deeply... my words lack the appropriate reverence. I keep each of these special people close to my unpublished self, offering them the only tribute I have.. loyalty and a genuine, passionate gratitude. I only hope that it is enough.
One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein...
"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
I've always interpreted this to mean, "be courageous". Take risks, and give yourself credit for the successes in your life, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to the onlookers.
As an author, I think that courage is a pre-requisite to the endeavor. I don't see a lot of timid authors out in the world. Writers, I think, by nature - whether introvert or extrovert - are people who take risks. We write stories and characters that sometimes make us uncomfortable and challenge our belief systems. We ask questions of ourselves like, "Would they really do or say that? Does that make sense?" We craft story lines that risk losing a reader in complexity or diversion. We birth books like children, taking the risk that the dialogue we speak may not ring true in a reader's ears. We ask people to think.
We send books, like ships, out into the world in search of a safe harbor... while what we really strive for is the adventure. We want to rock the boat on a sea of undulating perspectives. We want to hunt the great white whale of success while charting new courses for our craft. We want to discover how we can make our own voice heard over the crashing surf, while remaining constant to our own True North. It's a perilous journey, fraught with danger and uncertainty. And yet, we continue on, mustering the courage to reef the mainsail and head into the wind, knowing the harbor is safe, but that's not what our ship was built for.
Trends and tides in the publishing world are vigorous with change. Occasionally, we land upon the soft, sandy beaches of bookshops and festivals, taking reprieve and respite from the tumult of crashing waves. But after a few days, we grow restless and bored. It is in our nature to seek out new island nations of readers at libraries, festivals, and fairs. We crave the adventure of the open air, the sting of constructive criticism that makes us better writers, and the bounty of opportunity to chart a new course, discovering new genres, characters, and plot twists with every connection of pen and keyboard.
This year has been frustrating for us all. Our ships have been beached for far too long. Moored outside of the harbor's safety, yet trapped just inside the coral reefs, preventing us from reaching the wide open sea. We've tried to seek out alternative adventures, diving deep below decks, stretching fathoms beneath in search of hibernating mermen and merwomen who might also be avid readers. We've sent out literary seagulls, Zooming into the air, screeching our stories in hopes that passersby might hear, and be intrigued to follow and read. We've stayed safe, heeding the harbormaster's suggestion that the adventure is never worth sails being torn to shreds by gale force winds, people thrown overboard, and not enough life rings to save everyone. But it hasn't been easy.
The new sailing season will soon be upon us, however, and it'll hold more adventure than we can imagine. New writers will join the regatta. They've been waiting all year to angle their tillers and raise their spinnakers in search of the reading rainbow just off the horizon, their publishing tridents held high with a confidence all greenhorns should possess. The seasoned veterans of our craft will once again set their course and watch for the tell-tale signs that a favorable current is drawing near. They'll ready their nets and cast a carefully crafted first line synopsis, hoping for a bountiful catch. Everywhere, we will hear the gentle songs of loyal literary sirens, singing our praises with reviews and five-star recommendations.
Until then, my dear friends, winterize your hulls, install bubblers to avoid the crushing effects of ice, stock provisions of ink, paper, and chocolate to last the long winter days, and remember... all is not lost. Take courage. Our storied ships will indeed sail again, after all, that's what they were built for.
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