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.
An observation from my writing desk while perusing writing forums on the Internet…
It seems to me that many writers are engaged with a full measure of devotion to the “entitlement program”. Many feel that their work is so stupendous that a publisher should not only “discover” them and their book, but also court them and offer to publish their writing with absolutely no author investment or participation in the risks. It’s a little disconcerting. Remember, the definition of a publisher is any person who decides that a book is likely to be profitable, finances its printing, distributes it, and takes the risk of a loss if it does not sell, or the profit if it does.
What many people don’t realize is that Benjamin Franklin, often revered as the father of American Publishing, did it all on his own. He worked hard to create his writings… long nights with pen and ink by candlelight after his regular workday was done. He spent his own, hard-earned money to buy the paper and ink for the press, and added his own sweat equity into the process, tugging at the machinery to get the pages bound. In the end, he reaped the rewards of his creative labor. Franklin didn’t submit his writings to some publishing house in New York, Quebec, Great Britain, or Australia, waiting to be “picked up”. He just went out and did it. He was the first self-published author in America.
So often I hear from writers at various festivals or conferences, or read on blogs and in writing forums, “You should NEVER pay to have your work published!” That statement is usually followed by a highly volatile lecture about why self-publishing is the devil’s tool; and how, if you want to be respected as an author, you should NEVER self-publish! When did we, as a writing community, become so full of ourselves that doing it ourselves, with the assistance of professional guidance and advice, is no longer respected?
I wonder if Benjamin Franklin would have lived to see his work published if he had taken the same attitude? Imagine the conversation… “No, John, I’m not going to publish my book on my own, that’s a lot of work, and it will cost more than I should spend. After all, I took all that time to create it. This is damn fine writing, John; I should be paid to offer readers the privilege to enjoy my work! I’m just going to send it off to London and let them do it for me. Surely, my writing is so wonderful that once they read it, they will see how readers will clamor to buy it. I’ll make millions!”
Yeah, I’m pretty sure the conversation didn’t happen that way.
Here’s what I think the conversation actually sounded like: “You know, John, I spent so much time and took so much effort to create these words, that they feel sacred to me. I think I should retain control over who gets to publish them. I mean, let’s face it; England hasn’t established a great track record for helping us without bleeding our purses dry in the process. No, John, I’m going to publish it myself, my way. Sure, I’ll consider the advice of other writers in the community – to make my book the best it can be – and I’ll pay them, just as I would want to be paid for my expertise. Yes, it’ll be a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I’ll be in control if it’s appearance and who gets to sell it, and at what price. And in the end, John, I’ll keep all the profits. This is what I deserve. After all, I’m doing the work.”
Now, that’s a conversation that sounds a bit more realistic.
Somewhere along the way, through all the decades that passed since the days of Benjamin Franklin, writers lost sight of this founding father’s understanding of what literature should be… writers taking the risk to put their creativity into the world and hope that readers enjoy it. Now, too many writers are so full of themselves that they can’t accept that writing is both work and risk.
A writer isn’t entitled to be published. A writer isn’t entitled to the paycheck they think will be generated by their astounding words showing up on the page. Sometimes, if you want to see a dream fulfilled, you have to take the risk, invest the sweat equity, and pay to make it happen.
Remember, you’re going to pay for it, regardless.
If you choose to self-publish, you pay for the experience and expertise of professional guidance along the way… Information services like ISBNs and copyright registration (because the government always takes their cut if you want your work protected); editors (because we’re all smart enough to understand that we should NEVER edit our own work); interior layout designers… whether print or e-book, it’s important to get it right (yes, this is indeed a task many of us are capable of taking on ourselves, but most shouldn’t); cover designers… because, let’s face it, the cover makes the biggest impression on the reader – whether in print or e-book – it’s the first impression you have toward gaining a new reader and fan (some of us are artistic enough to do this… most of us aren’t).
The point is, even before you get to promotion and sales, there are a lot of expenses involved when creating a book that readers will someday read and share with their friends. Yet, after all this investment of time and money, you will enjoy the pleasure of not having to share your royalty checks with anyone else. In the end, you will reap the greatest reward, a full share in equity and complete ownership of the creative process and the finished work. What could possibly be more fulfilling than that?!
If you choose to wait until a “traditional” publisher picks up your book… you still pay for that privilege… just on the back end. First, you’ll have to find an agent, because traditional publishers don’t take manuscripts without one. The government still wants their cut of your creative endeavor, so your publisher will send them a check. Their staff editors will make changes to your book, and they get paid for their time. Their cover designer and interior layout designers will contribute their skills to your manuscript, and your publisher will pay them, as well.
So far, no money has come out of your pocket. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not really. You see, after your book actually hits the shelves, you’ll still have to pay all of that back. It’s called “recoupment”. It means that you won’t see one thin dime until your publisher makes back every cent they put into creating your book. Oh, and once your book does hit shelves, you will also owe your agent a cut of each book that sells, which again, you won’t be able to pay until the publisher has enjoyed full recoupment first. So, it may be five, ten or perhaps fifteen years until you see a penny’s reward for your creativity. Oh, and you’ve lost ownership of your work, as publishers won’t give you the rights back until they have realized full recoupment. Some never give you back your rights.
So, to those indignant writers reprimanding other writers who have chosen to self-publish, independently publish or partnership publish, rather than waiting for the windfall of a traditional publisher… and to those of you who try to strip us of our status as a “legitimate author” simply because we wanted more creative and economic freedom and control… you, my friend, are a PUBLISHING BIGOT*.
I can understand and support your decision if you feel that traditional publishing is the best choice for you and your writing career. We all must make the best decisions for our creative lives. However, the fact that you feel it necessary to degrade other writers for choosing a different path is NOT your right. There is no “wrong” or “right” path to pursue as a writer. And, for you to humiliate other creative souls because you don’t agree with their chosen path is at best, rude. At worst, it’s completely offensive. This behavior needs to change.
Please, support your fellow authors. Regard their creative spirit in the same way that your creative spirit wants to be understood, as sacred. Support their choice to follow the path that is right for them and their writing career, even if it’s not the decision you made for yourself.
Our goal as writers should be to create excellent books for readers to enjoy, not quibble over and ostracize others about how that goal is accomplished.
*Bigot: A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.
It was near midnight on a night in late December. The madness of the holiday season was nearly over... just the ball drop to go... before the New Year began. I was at home, alone, reading. I was curled up on the couch with a book by one of my favorite Indie Authors, Andy Lockwood. I was finally getting around to reading his novel, House Of Thirteen. Our dog, Charlie, was snuggled up nearby. My husband was away for the weekend; spending time at our cabin with his guitar, and our other dog, Finnigan.
As I turned a page and sipped a bit of cocoa, I heard a faint mumbling voice emitting from the bookshelves to my left. Filled with my most treasured things; family photographs, stuffed ducks, books signed by Indie Authors, and a Snoopy music box - a gift from my husband - I was startled by the noise. There wasn't anything on those shelves, let alone in the whole house, that could have produced such a sound. Charlie hadn't stirred. The room became silent again, and I shook my head; surely I'd imagined it. After all, being deaf in one ear, I spend a lot of time hearing things and not hearing things differently than the rest of the world. I went back to reading.
A few more pages and sips of cocoa later, I heard the sound again. A muffled, mumbling voice. The words weren't clear, but it was definitely a voice. Then, the room became quiet again. Andy's writing was messing with my head. His story was getting into my brain. He's done that before. I got off the couch, reached over, and turned on the other lamp. Of course, extra light would eliminate the problem.
I sat back down, turned the page, and reached for my cocoa. As the cup drew close to my lips, I heard it again. A bit louder this time, low and rumbling, insistent in the expectation that I respond. No discernible words, mind you. Just a tone that required my full attention. I set my book and mug on the coffee table, and walked closer to the bookshelves. Charlie perked up his ears at my movement, but remained comfortable on the couch. The muffled voice persisted. I lifted the music box, thinking perhaps its mechanism was stuck. Nope. Snoopy was silent and perfectly still. Not even the slightest vibration. Then I heard it again. A low rumbled whisper, and as I bent to the lower shelf, it became louder. I reached for the leather-bound journal I bought a few weeks earlier. I hadn't used it yet... I was waiting for the right time, the new year, creatively important things to record...
I pulled the book from the shelf and it vibrated in my hands. I reached for the leather strap and unwound it from the clasp. The parchment pages fell open to the near-middle of the book, and a faint whiff of the scent of burning wood from a campfire lofted up from the binding. "I am the Genie of The Book," came a voice from somewhere inside.
I dropped the thing on the couch and ran across the room. Charlie yelped, raced into the bedroom, and crawled under the comforter. This was not normal behavior from a book, certainly not a blank book, even Charlie knew that. I glanced at House of Thirteen, still sitting next to my cocoa mug, and whispered, "Thanks, Andy."
The journal, still sitting open on my couch, puffed out a little bit of grey smoke and said again, "I am the Genie of The Book." I hesitated... but then, curiosity acting instead of intelligence; I picked up the book. "I am The Genie of The Book," it intoned yet again. It was nothing if not persistently redundant.
"Um, okay," I said. "What do you want?"
"It's not about what I want," it said. "It's rarely about what I want... It's about what you want. What do you want?"
Completely gobsmacked - and that is not a word I ever use, but nothing else fits here - I sat down on the couch, held the book in my lap, and replied, "Uh... I don't know what you mean. Can you rephrase the question in a form that might make sense to me, because right now, nothing is making a lot of sense to me. I've got a book talking to me - for which I blame a nightmare of Andy's courting, - and perhaps sour milk in my cocoa. So..."
The voice cleared it's throat, sounding much like a disgruntled Harrison Ford as it replied with exasperation, "I am the Genie of The Book..."
"Yes, you said that..."
"And, I'm here to grant you three Writing Wishes."
"Writing Wishes?" I asked
"Yes, Writing Wishes... what other kind of wishes do you think a Book Genie would grant?" Another small puff of charcoal smoke circled up to my nose. I swear, if it had eyes, the journal would have rolled them at me. The disgruntled Harrison Ford voice was not pleased.
"Ah... alright... Can you make my book a NYT Bestseller?"
"Why not?" I said, a bit frustrated and beginning to doubt the validity of the Genie. "That's a wish every writer has; I'm sure you've encountered that request before, haven't you? I'd think it would be an easy one."
"Of course, it's what every Indie Author wants. But that's not writing. That's selling. Two different things. One's controllable, the other one's SOOOO not."
"Oh. Well then, I'll need a little bit of time to think about this. How many wishes do I get; is it the standard three?"
"Well, sure," said the Genie, now with more of a soothing Tom Hanks voice. "Everything's got to have it's standards. Wishes are no different."
"Got it. And I'm guessing that asking for the annihilation of an author I don't like or getting Neil Gaiman to attend my next book signing is out of the question, too, right?"
"Now you're catching on. See, this isn't that hard. And don't forget to begin with 'I wish'; you should at least know that part, right? Everybody knows that part. You've seen Labyrinth." The voice shifted into a condescending Prince Humperdink. The changing voices thing was beginning to get a little unnerving. This thing would be so much easier to believe if the stupid Genie had an agreeable Robin Williams voice... something that at least made sense.
"Okay, three Writing Wishes." I thought for a minute. What would make writing better, easier, more fun... what did I need to improve my craft? I'd always been told - and told others - writing didn't involve magic - so this was a bit of a stretch for me.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes of thought, throughout which the book emitted silent three inch tall mushroom clouds of wispy smoke with an exasperated wheeze on every puff, I made my requests. "Okay, I think I'm ready."
"It's about time. I could have yellowed with age from all your procrastination." The Book Genie's Harrison Ford impersonation was really quite impressive. "Can we get on with this, please?"
"First, I wish for perfect grammar and spelling. That would eliminate the need for at least one editorial pass; but you've got to keep it current... none of this Canterbury Tales Olde English nonsense. Chaucer's nice, but he's dead. Let's keep him that way, okay?"
"Done," said the Genie, returning to the much more calming Tom Hanks voice. A green puff of smoke emitted from the middle of the binding, and a page magically turned. Did I say magically... well, okay, there really isn't a better way to describe it. The page turned by itself... I didn't touch the thing. The windows were all closed, no breezes in the room, magic was the only reasonable explanation. Okay, perhaps not reasonable - but it's an explanation... sort of. "What's next?"
"Okay, um, thank you." It seemed odd to be talking to a book... but I thought that if I was talking to it, and it was talking back, the least I could do was be polite. Who knows how this stuff will come back to bite you if you aren't respectful. "Second, I wish for one-click instant cover formatting and interior formatting with pagination so I'll never have file upload issues with the print house ever again. You can't even begin to imagine how frustrating it is to receive email after email from robots telling you that something is wrong with the formatting, but never being quite specific enough with the details so you can fix the problem on the first pass. Avoiding that headache would be magical, indeed."
"Sounds like a reasonable request to me." There was a yellow puff of smoke, more like a jet stream, than a mushroom cloud this time, and again the page turned. The tingling sensation that moved from my right hand to my left was small but perceptible as the page flipped. Also, this time, a little woosh noise happened as the pages changed position. Did a formatting wish take more energy to grant? Logically, it made sense. It was a heartier wish than spelling and grammar, after all. "You got it. Now what?"
"Wow, that's great. Thank you." I was down to one wish. What was a writer to do? You would think that with all the imagination stored up in my little brain, and the vast number of stories I can concoct on a near-hourly basis, this would be easy, but it's not. Wishes are difficult - more so when you know that there's a better than excellent chance they're actually going to come to fruition. You don't want to be wasteful, but you don't want to be ordinary. You don't want to wish for something you know you could accomplish without the help... but you don't want to miss an opportunity to make the writing craft easier, either. This wishing business was an arduous task. Who would have thunk?
It took a few more minutes of contemplation to decide on my final wish. It was a conundrum. The book was softly humming the theme from Jeopardy. It was a little distracting. After two choruses of the theme, the Book Genie said, "Can we move it along here... I've got places to be, stories to tell." The exasperated Harrison Ford voice was back.
"Alright," I said with a sigh, "I think I've got it." I took a deep breath and spoke my final wish. "I wish that the book reviews I receive from readers are honest, and that I learn to handle them with grace, without frustration, and without ego." The book was silent for a long moment. I knew that I was asking for something big... but really, if I had only one Writing Wish to have granted, this would be the one. Was it within the realm of what the Book Genie could accomplish? I didn't know. The book remained silent... two small puffs of alternating blue and magenta smoke, like smoke stacks, emitted from the middle of the binding.
After about three full minutes, the book spoke, and this time, much to my delight, with the intonation of Robin Williams. "Wow!" it said. "That's never been wished for before. "Whew! That's a big one." With a final, simultaneous puff of blue and magenta smoke, and a sound that resembled the crashing of waves upon the northern Maine coastline, the page turned and the Book Genie said, "Your wish has been granted." The book quivered in my hands for a brief moment, and then fell silent and still.
I felt Charlie's tiny, wet tongue licking my eyelashes and my nose. I opened my eyes. I must have fallen asleep on the couch. Andy's book and my now cold cocoa mug were on the coffee table, my journal was open on my lap to the first page. Written in my handwriting was a single entry:
Thank you is the best you can do,
and the greatest honor you can bestow upon any reviewer.
Don't Screw This Up!
There's been a trend in recent years to gift books at a baby shower in lieu of cards. I think it's a fantastic idea, and something I've been doing long since before it became a trend. I've always been a firm believer that a child should have as many books - as they have toys... and preferably more books. When you gift a book to a child, what helps you make that final decision? Do you focus on the book's message or lesson? The characters? The pictures? When I gift a book, be it to a child or an adult, I always think first about how that book touched me, and I make a gift hoping the recipient will enjoy it in the same way I did. I hope it will build the same memories for them.
These are the top three children's books that created the most lasting impression on my childhood. This list is so much greater than three... and the books I discovered when I had my son would go on a completely different list... but this is a good start. If I was limited to share only three titles with the children in my life forever, these would the books I would choose. I hope you'll take the time to discover and share their wonderment with a young person in your life.
Santa Mouse by Michael Brown
This is one of my first memories of literature. I think I was about four when I first had this book read to me during the holidays. I can't remember if it was one that already lived on our shelves, or if it was a gift; but I remember the story very clearly. This is a wonderful tale of altruism demonstrated by a tiny little mouse thinking of someone far bigger then he, Santa Claus, and how perhaps Santa doesn't receive gifts on Christmas. The story, written in a simple rhyme that I had memorized by the third or fourth reading (and can still recite almost perfectly today), is about how the little mouse sets out to make it right. When Santa encounters the gift and is touched by the gesture, he asks the mouse his name, to thank him properly. But, the mouse doesn't have a name. So, Santa adopts him. He gives him a tiny little suit, and shiny black boots, and even a tiny little beard. In that moment, he is officially Santa Mouse, and spends the rest of his days spreading the joy of altruism throughout the holiday season. I remember that this book made a terrific impact on me because it made me clearly understand that no matter how small or inconsequential I thought I was... there was much good I could do, and the good I did wouldn't go unnoticed. This book had such an impact on my life that I shared it with my son and have given it as gifts more times than I can count. We still have a copy on our shelves to this day. When I was a child, we didn't have Elf on a Shelf to remind us of why kindness was important during the season; we had Santa Mouse!
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
I love this book! In this story, a steam shovel, named MaryAnn becomes the center of attention as she digs the basement for the new city center/courthouse. As the story goes, the more people gather around to watch MaryAnn dig, the faster she digs. The result: she dug the basement in just one day! But... she dug so fast, and so well, she forgot to leave a ramp to get out once the digging was done. What to do? Retire, and become the furnace to keep the courthouse warm. A perfect solution. I love this story because it reminds us that tenacity is important... stick to it and get the job done. It also reminds us how important it is for us to be aware that we are always doing things that are an inspiration to others - even when we make mistakes. The mistake made doesn't need to hold us back from a comfortable and successful life. We get to choose how to realign our priorities and our understanding of the future. Even as a young child, these messages were well received. The trick, of course, is following through on them as an adult! I was crushed when this book was out of print for a while; but now it's back, and I will continue to gift it to children and adults alike. The message bears repeating, even in our older years. Tenacity is a trait to be embraced... and so is flexibility. Both hold outcomes that will enrich our lives.
The House At Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
This is by far the one children's book that has stuck with me throughout all of the adventures (and misadventures) of my life. It was the first story I read to my son the day I brought him home from the hospital, and a small Pooh stuffed bear sat in the bassinet with him at the hospital just after his birth. He still has it. I love the Pooh stories because of the characters. They are rich and vibrant, and show us that simply being ourselves really is enough in this world. Pooh is simple, but wise. Owl is wise but needs nurturing. Eeyore is quiet and strong, even when alone. Tigger is filled with joy and still finds ways to learn. Kanga is tender and playful. Roo is eager to learn and always loyal. Rabbit is quick to take charge, and also quick to humility. Piglet is very tiny but more brave than all the rest; more brave than me, even. Christopher Robin was the key that allowed us into the secret forest. After that, it was out of his hands... and he was okay with that. Christopher was okay with not being the spotlight, he was ego-free; and happy because of it. Whenever I feel dislocated from my place in the world, I read a little bit of Pooh and somehow reconnect and become at ease with my insecurities and frustrations. Whenever anyone asks what book I'd like to be stranded with on an island in the middle of nowhere... this is the one I will always choose. These are my best friends.
Literacy is such a wonderful gift. Be sure to give your favorite books whenever you have the opportunity... to mark the milestones of birthdays, anniversaries, and graduation. Remember too, that books are the best "just because I was thinking of you" gift. Gift a book today. No excuse required.
What are your top three memorable children's books? Leave your list in the comments below.
You'll find some interesting stuff here... some Op Eds, some Information, Book Reviews, and More. Poke around the categories and see what ruffles your feathers... in a good way!