A self-published children’s book brought down Baltimore’s mayor — Literary Hub

Storyteller’s note:  This story just pisses me off.  Some no talent hack in government made $680,000 selling her self-published books to people in institutions that wouldn’t recognize a good children’s book if it were stapled to their foreheads.  It’s alleged that something fraudulent was going on and the investigation is ongoing.  Putting a self-published book out there with no marketing budget is hard enough, but watching someone else cheat with bad books that are designed to make adults feel good about buying them is enough to induce vomiting.  I hope they throw the book at her.  

“Buy a self-published children’s book” is admittedly not at the top of the list when it comes to ways to gain political influence, and yet that’s the emerging picture in Baltimore, where Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned yesterday after controversy from such a book came to a head. The Baltimore Sun reported in March that the…

via A self-published children’s book brought down Baltimore’s mayor — Literary Hub

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The Paralysis of Waiting

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I’m still some weeks away from learning whether or not the publisher will make an offer on my picture book manuscript.

Friday I had to vacuum the dust off the backpack containing my laptop and WIP.

Yeah.

I have the most miserable sense of being in author’s limbo.  It’s nothing like the limbo I was told about as a child, where babies go if they die before they’re christened.  It’s more like the lowest circle of hell.  A terrible place where images of success and failure alternately flash before my eyes–the dream realized vs. the dream dashed.

My sense of identity as a writer has grown stronger over the last couple of years.  It’s no longer simply what I want to be, it’s what I am.  Lately, I find myself slipping back into that insecure place where I’m waiting for a third party to nod in my direction and bestow upon me the coveted title of published author.  Something inside my brain is telling me I have no business sitting down to write before permission is granted.

I hate myself for allowing that to happen.

I have no excuses today.  The inbox for my day job is empty.  I already did the dishes.  I have forced myself into writer mode by dropping this little note of confession to you.  I’m going, at this very moment, to grab the backpack and see where I left off.

Join me.

Not So Fast!

Just got an email from the publisher.  I’ve made it from the slush pile and through the editorial board.  They liked the revision.  The final decision on whether or not to publish will be made at a meeting next month of their sales and marketing team.

One thing I’m learning is that the wheels of the publishing machine move rather slowly but deliberately.

Patience.

I think I’m having an out-of-body experience.

Now What?

Well, the publisher who contacted me said the acquisitions board would meet in late February/early March.

We’re coming to the end of March with no further word from the publisher, so I have to assume they decided not to publish my manuscript.

A dream-crushing experience once again.  How should I, as an author, respond?

I checked their website.  They’re open for submissions once again.  I sent another manuscript.

Stand up.  Dust yourself off.  Get back in the game.

So, This is Where Things Stand…

Four years ago, I sent a picture book manuscript to a small publishing house that was accepting submissions.  I never heard from them and eventually forgot I had submitted to them at all.

At the end of November, I received an email from one of the editors there, asking me if the manuscript were still available.  I responded in the affirmative right away and began looking for the long-abandoned ledger I had used to keep track of submissions.  There it was, January 28, 2015, via snail mail.

December and January dragged on with no further word until January 30th when another email announced that the editorial team liked the story but wanted a minor revision.  They wanted it before the acquisitions board met at the end of February/beginning of March.

Hackles up.  Paralyzing fear.  I kept my cool, though, and responded that I’d work on it and send the revision in soon.  I had a few weeks to make or break my chances of being published.  No pressure, right?

I spent the first few days frantically trying to think of a way to revise the scene in question.  It had seemed simple and elegant to me at the time and quite frankly, I didn’t see why it should be changed.  They thought it was confusing.

Breathe.  Take another bite of that reality sandwich.

I can’t self-publish the story because I can’t draw.  I also can’t afford to pay someone to do the illustrations for me.  Could I swallow my pride and do what they asked?  What if I changed the story and the acquisitions board passed on it?

A fellow writer I know had been through this song and dance.  Agent acquired.  Publisher interested.  Publisher asked for a revision.  Revision submitted.  Publisher passed.

Was I compromising my manuscript?  Would the manuscript go from being liked to being rejected?

After several false starts, I thought I had a revision I liked; but I held off sending it in.  I like to let a story stew for a few days and then go back to it.  I tweaked it.  Waited.  Tweaked it some more.  The more I worked on it, the more the panic subsided.  Finally, I felt it was ready to be resubmitted.  Off it went, accompanied by an email that sounded upbeat and confident.

I had turned it around in a little over a week.  I sent it in and then put the folder away in my desk.  If I look at it again, I’m sure I’ll find something else to change.  The revision would spiral out of control and the editor would have no time to consider it before sending it to acquisitions.  If there is another change to be made, I want time to make it.

Unless the editor wants another revision, I probably won’t hear from them again until after the acquisitions board meets in a few weeks.  I’m trying to stay positive.

I wrote a good story.  I choked down my considerable sense of pride and made the revision they asked for.  I turned it around quickly.  I behaved professionally, even though I didn’t feel particularly professional.  Will it pay off?

Stay tuned.

Is It Spring Yet?

Here in southeast Michigan, we made it most of the way through January without snow, which is unusual; but as my birthday came to an end Friday evening, the flakes were beginning to fall.

I woke up Saturday morning while it was still dark and found we had accumulated a few inches of fresh snow.  For a few hours, I was able to sit in my recliner with a cup of tea and enjoy the silence that follows when the sounds of the city are muffled in white.  The peaceful sensation of watching the snow fall outside my window while I sat warm and snuggled inside would be broken by late morning by the sound of snow blower motors and the scraping of shovels.

It was nice while it lasted.

Today, the sun is shining and the reflection on the snow makes going out without sunglasses a foolhardy venture.  It’s a January sun, though.  Plenty of light but no warmth.  We’re currently at 12F, not counting the wind chill factor.

January is a month that requires me to put my head down and just plow ahead.  I hate the cold and the dark that dominate most winter days.  While February (a mercifully short month) isn’t much better, I know that by the time Presidents’ Day passes, the robins will be returning.  They’ll brave some very cold temperatures and a few more snow storms, but their presence is one that tells me to hang on, spring is almost here.  February will give way to March, when a few stubborn patches of dirty snow will cling to the shade.  With April, I’ll see the buds on the tips of tree branches.  With May, the sun will stop playing its dirty trick and will once again give us warmth to go with its light.

Spring.  Windows open.  Birds chirping.  Walks in the park.  Friday night cigars on the porch.

Wait for it.

Starting from Scratch–Again

It’s something we all do at the start of a new year, isn’t it?  We start from scratch.  We set new goals, revise plans, and look forward.

I’m doing that in unexpected ways today.

A month ago, I was working with a small local independent publishing service to add a few simple illustrations to my indie chapter book for kids, Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster, to be rereleased on Amazon with plans in the works for the sequel.  Since then, the publisher and the wonderful bookstore that worked so hard to promote local authors was suddenly and quite unexpectedly closed down by the primary owner.

Also about a month ago, I received an email from an editor at a small traditional publisher asking if the picture book manuscript I’d submitted to them almost four years ago was still available and if she could present it to the editorial board.  Having lost my indie publishing partner, I gave her the go-ahead.  I’ve been honest here about my misgivings and doubts about traditional publishing; but my dream of self-publishing my picture books hit a dead-end when the local publishing service, with its illustrators that were within my limited financial range, went under.  I haven’t yet heard back from the traditional publisher, so on the first day of 2019 I’m drifting in limbo.

I don’t like limbo.

The small traditional publisher in question puts out some wonderful picture books.  I’ve heard they’re selective because they only publish a limited number of titles each year, so I feel honored to have one of my manuscripts considered.  Even if they pass, I know I’m onto something.  It’s a boost to my confidence when I so desperately need it.

I still love the independence of self-publishing and how it enables me to maintain control over my work.  Unfortunately, despite my efforts to learn, I still can’t illustrate my own stories.  My computer savvy is virtually nonexistent, and marketing is something I don’t understand.  Amazon inexplicably took down the one review anyone bothered to write; and if I had royalties for every book people claimed they were going to buy, I’d be closer to hiring that illustrator.

The most frustrating thing for me as a writer is that everyone who has read my first book loved it, including my judge at the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards last year.  My writing is solid.  My ability to represent myself and my work is not.

I’ve taken a big bite of the reality sandwich that is self-publishing on Amazon, and it gave me heartburn.

What’s an author to do?

Well, an idea for a new story popped into my head the other day.  All I can say is that it involves socks.  Mind you, it’s just the germ of a story.  I can hear the cadence of the words off in the distance, but not yet the words themselves.  As we settle into winter and back to a regular schedule, I’ll have time to sit and listen as the words get closer.  I don’t mean to sound weird or mystical, but that’s how my stories come to me.  It’s a drumbeat, faint and a little indistinct.  I can draw the sound closer by beginning to put words on paper, and then the drummer fades out as my consciousness takes over.

I guess if writing is a disease, then productivity is the cure.

The Winthrop Risk sequel is almost finished, but I don’t know if I’ll bother self-publishing it on Amazon.  Like the first installment, it will need a few illustrations.  I won’t make the same mistake and release the sequel without them.  I’m sure the lack of chapter head illustrations has dampened sales of the first book, and it was the Writer’s Digest judge’s only criticism.

As far as my picture books go, I guess indie publishing is out of the question for me.  Time to restart the soul-crushing exercise of tossing my stories onto the slush pile and hoping someone notices my work.  I haven’t decided what to do with the Winthrop Risk series.  I’ll leave the first book up there on Amazon for now, sans illustrations until I can work something out.  I’ll finish the sequel and put it aside while I work on the picture book ideas I had to put on hold, and I’ll submit the others to publishers for consideration.

While we lost the local bookstore/publisher last month, one of the former owners is charging ahead with plans for a new service to help indie authors promote their work.  Her love for writing and her passion for supporting local writers are an inspiration to me.  I look forward to working with her again.

As I sit here on January 1, 2019, I find myself facing obstacles old and new in my quest to be published and read.  I know many of you are doing the same.  Chin up, everyone.

We’ve got this.

A Pocket Watch

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I recently acquired a pocket watch.  It’s an old-fashioned mechanical watch, which means it has to be wound every day.  In the center of the face, you can see the gears moving.  The tick-tick-tick is rapid and soft, like the heartbeat of a bird.

It’s been years since I owned a timepiece that didn’t require a battery.  My home is full of glowing digital clocks.  I’m sure yours is, too.  In the computer age, we’re accustomed to instant information and constant updates, but we’ve sacrificed something beautiful for that knowledge.

We always know what time it is, but we no longer know how to tell time.

I find myself opening my new pocket watch just to see the second hand tick around the mother of pearl face.  The minute hand moves along slowly, in no rush.  It knows it can’t outrun the second hand, nor can the hour hand overtake it.  Everything moves along at an even pace, the gears moving in turn.

I’d forgotten how long a minute can be.

We rush around, especially at this time of year, glancing at our phones or our digital dashboards to see how much time we have to get to the next place or the next thing.  There isn’t much we can do about it.  We all have deadlines and promises to keep, but I can’t help but wonder if much of what we call writer’s block is really just writer’s rush.

I’ll be keeping my pocket watch with me when I sit down to write.  Before I open my laptop or my notebook, I’ll open the watch and do what the name suggests–I’ll watch.  I’ll watch the second hand make its way around the face.  I’ll watch a minute pass.  I’ll listen to the tick-tick-tick.  I’ll let my digital mind slow down.

I’ll make time to write.

 

Atmosphere

This time of year, you can’t avoid the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.  No matter how hard you try.  Trust me.

At first glance, the success of these movies and their popularity with viewers is puzzling.  They’re running a few basic plots that are done over and over again with minor changes in the characters and locations.  The plots are so predictable that you can come in on the middle of one and walk away before it ends, never missing a beat.

This has become a running joke with my husband.  He can come in at the beginning of a movie, ask me what’s going on, and get a full run down from me of how the entire thing is going to play out.

What should be obvious by now is that I’ve gotten sucked into watching quite a few of these.  Why?  I mean, I don’t even celebrate Christmas anymore.  Is Hallmark slipping in subliminal Christmas messages?

I think it’s pretty simple.  As with their mystery series, Hallmark has mastered the art of atmosphere.  Each movie features little towns decked out in impossibly lavish Christmas decorations.  The homes are cozy and festive.  Snow is abundant and pristine–no muddy slush at Hallmark.  Even the characters are dressed in greens and reds.  In the end, wrongs are righted, true love triumphs over misunderstandings and selfish ambition, and the true spirit of Christmas is realized by all.

It’s genius.

The holidays are a stressful and often sad time of year for many people; but 24/7 during the season, you can sit down with a cup of tea or cocoa and enjoy an innocent tale in an ideal town with a guaranteed happy ending.   As a children’s book author, I recognize the need for that sense of warmth and safety in my picture books.  Kids need that more than ever to overcome the effects of social media and the 24/7 news cycle.

But the lesson can apply to any genre.  Where is your story taking place? What does that dark room in an empty house feel like?  What kind of couch does your detective stretch out on at the end of the day, and what is she drinking?  Can your reader feel the story?  How are you engaging their senses?  Can you do it without being too heavy-handed?

Trite, formulaic stortelling is something we all  want to avoid, but we can learn something from those who are successful in spite of being trite and formulaic.  We can learn how to immerse our readers in our story’s world and how to keep them coming back for more.

Hot cocoa, anyone?

It’s That Time of Year Again

Here’s an oldie but a goodie.

Storyteller

horseman

Every year, as the leaves begin to change, I dust off my copy of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and read it again.

Irving had a wonderful way of describing things in luxurious detail. His description of the meals at Katrina’s house is rich enough to make you want to raid the fridge. And his description of Ichabod is priceless:

“The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along…

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