Browse Category by The Indie Journey
Commentary, The Indie Journey

Thoughts on Publishing, Worth Repeating

In my last post, I started off by saying October was going to be crazy.  WAS IT EVER.  (And we still have another week. Let the week-long sugar high begin!)  But it was crazy in a good way, and crazy in all the right ways.  All the events went well, up to and including the publication of my second book.  I admit I was terrified of shipping the book myself, but it turned out to be super easy and really fun because I was able to sign the books as they went out.

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Me at MN ITEM- a conference full of school librarians and writers.  MY PEOPLE.

Book festivals and literary conferences attract all kinds of bookworms, and this month I found myself connecting with a lot of aspiring writers. Lots of them asked the same questions, so I thought I’d recap with my responses here.

  1. What’s the difference between self-publishing and independent publishing?

For a lot of people, these words are interchangeable.  For me, they aren’t.  Blogging is self-publishing.  Putting your manuscript, hastily or cheaply edited, up on Amazon for download is self-publishing.  Financing a book yourself, without any sort of help or guidance, is self-publishing.  I don’t knock this form of publishing at all– for some people, it’s great.  For others, it’s disappointing.  But that is true of any type of artistic endeavor (more on that later).  I consider myself “independent” in that I financed the books myself, without any backing of an agent or publishing house, but with the ENORMOUS help of my publishers, Wise Ink.  What they do is take my brand, my book, and my vision, and help me bring it to life.  So I’m doing it on my own in the way that a baker might start their own business– with a ton of help from people who know the larger picture better than I.

2. Money.  Give it to me straight.

I don’t mind talking about the financial piece of indie publishing with people who are truly curious about it. Here’s what I’ll say, without mincing words:  Figure out a budget that works for you.  Then sit down with someone to see if you can make that budget happen.  Each project is different.  If you’re writing a full-color cookbook, your printing costs are going to be astronomically higher than mine.  If you design your own cover, you’ll avoid the fee I paid to have a full time artist design my cover.  If you’re PDF savvy, maybe you can format your own interior.  Maybe not.  What I’m saying is that part of the fun of doing it yourself is figuring out these pieces along the way.

3.  Fine, fine.  Give it to me more straight. I want numbers.

Okay, fine.  (Can you tell I had some candid conversations?)  But I can only say this from my experience writing novels.  I promise you’ll find plenty of other idie authors with different stories to tell.  My first book cost about $8k.  That includes a publicist, coordinating logistics, a well-known interior formatter, my incredible illustrator, and the printing of 1000 copies of The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High.  $8k seems like a lot of money.  It is.  I know people who’ve spent far more than that, and I know people who’ve spent far less.  My second book, Edge the Bare Garden, was published for a fraction of that cost, partially because I did a much smaller print run but mostly because I was much smarter the second time around, and made some smarter financial decisions (ie, maximizing my direct sales opportunities.

4. Are you profitable?

Sheesh, enough with the money talk.  The answer is no, not yet.  But soon.  Hopefully super, super soon.  Two books in two years is pretty aggressive… and it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  But I do see a finish line fast approaching.

5. Wouldn’t a big publisher give you more opportunities than you’d find independently?  (In other words, aren’t you worried about the stigma of self-publishing?)

The answer to both questions is no.  While it would be wonderful to get a huge advance from a publisher, sit back with a cup of tea, and write while my royalty checks accrue magically, that is simply not the case for writers in general, no matter how they’re published.  For every John Green or Stephanie Meyer, there are hundreds– thousands– more authors like me, who are growing their audiences one positive review at a time.  My school visits are pure joy for me, and the kids reading my book couldn’t care less who or how the book was published.  They care if it’s good.

6. Is it worth it?

This was a broad question, asked many times in many forms.  Aren’t you exhausted with all those school visits?  How do you find time with two small children to write books?  What about rejection, negative reviews, etc?  I’ll summarize by repeating what I said at an author panel at the beginning of the month:  If you’re a creative person and you aren’t creating, then what are you doing?  Yes, the money is important, the investment is huge(ish), and the risk is high.  Crazy high.  But what of it?  Life is short, and if you are motivated to create, then do it.  And if you do it smartly, you won’t be sorry.

Edge the Bare Garden, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Events!

October is going to be crazy. CRAZY! But exciting, too.  Did I mention I’m printing a new book?  As we speak?? AHHHH!!

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Here’s a list of upcoming events.  If you’re around the Twin Cities, come and nerd out with me!

Oct 1:  The Author Next Door, Edina Community Center

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This is going to be a panel discussion hosted by my wonderful publishers at Wise Ink. If you’re a writer, know a writer, or even have a great idea you want to see made into a book, this will be lots of fun.

Oct 2:  Minnesota ITEM Conference, St. Cloud

This is a wonderful event for school media specialists across the state.  Lots of networking, lots of learning, and I will be there along with many other local authors talking about– what else– all things books and education.

Oct 15-16:  Education MN Conference, St. Paul

I can’t believe that I’ve never participated in MEA before as a teacher, and this year I’ll be participating with Wise Ink as an author.  I’m hoping to connect with more teachers and talk about internet responsibility in the classroom.

Oct. 17: Twin Cities Book Festival, St. Paul

It is going to be so exciting to participate in the Twin Cities Book Festival this year!  These events used to intimidate me horribly, but now I’m looking forward to sharing space with my fellow writers and coming home with loads of books to read and review.

Edge the Bare Garden, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Book 2. Gulp.

So I’m publishing another book.  My goal is to have it available for purchase by October 1.  Can you handle that? I cannot.  Here is a super sneak peek at the cover:

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Over the last month or so I’ve been letting people know that this is my plan.  “WHAT?” they invariably answer, particularly those who saw the long, painstaking process I went through to publish The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High.  Everything- EVERYTHING- about this process is different from the first.  Here is a play-by-play of the how and why:

1.  I figured how how I, Roseanne Cheng, sell books best

I’ve talked to a lot of writers in the last few years who have been totally intimidated with the thought of marketing their own work. THEY SHOULD BE. Marketing your own books is about as fun as a series of root canals. But I’ve learned SO much from the process of the first, and the most important for me is that I sell the most books, and most comfortably, when I’m face-to-face with my audience. This is not to say that some authors don’t have major success with a few well-timed Facebook and Twitter posts.  That’s just not what worked for me, or what I’m willing to do.  So I’m focusing (and broadening) what did work the last time, which is getting out into the community and selling directly.

2.  I embraced the direct sale

Before publishing the first book, I saw an Amazon presence as the be-all-end-all of authorship.  For me, this was not the case.  At all.  My Amazon sales have been a fraction of my direct sales.  I’ll still have a presence on Amazon for this book, but for the most part I’m going to be pushing direct sales from my website (link on the top of the page).  That way I can keep contact information for my readers and sign books before shipping them off.

3.  I focused on (and continue to focus on) the bigger picture

I have never had the one-and-done mentality when it comes to books.  I am a writer and want to write.  As in, continuously. To that end, that means I must continue to publish books.  Even when I still have inventory on the first.  Even though I still haven’t gotten the Oprah bump.  Even when it’s really very scary and daunting.  Believe me when I say it is positively terrifying to think that as vulnerable as I made myself with the first book, I’m going to double (maybe triple) that with the second.  But hey– what’s life without risk?  Boring, if you ask me.

4.  I did it my way

The best part about publishing book 2 has been the freedom I’ve had in the creative process.  I had that same freedom with the first I suppose, but I was such a fish out of water when it came to publishing that I allowed other people to control how the publication went down. In some ways this was great, but in others it wasn’t.  So I kept the things that worked last time, and didn’t keep the things that didn’t work.  It simplified the process greatly.

***In an effort to build my email correspondence list, I’m hosting a giveaway of The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High. Please download a free copy, read, review, and enjoy!***

 

 

Creative Writing Workshop, Teachable Books, The Indie Journey

Why We Ink: Pubslush Campaign

What an honor it was to edit and write the forward for Why We Ink, Poems, Stories, and Essays from the Pens of Young Writers.  I realize I’m completely biased, but this is one awesome anthology.

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As with many independent books, Pubslush is making this and subsequent books a possibility.  If you’re able, please purchase an advanced copy!

https://pubslush.com/project/6722

Commentary, The Indie Journey

When Writing is Hard

I’ve been all kinds of conflicted about writing lately, which is why I haven’t blogged here in awhile.  Without going into details, the writing itself is going great.  Awesome!  But I was ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath of “the first year out”.  The ups have been followed by… not “downs”, not really, but disappointments.  And as much as I would love to lie and say no big deal, the little things do become big things, and when they do it can be overwhelming to the point of wanting the throw in the towel.

(Don’t worry.  I’m not throwing in the towel.)

The nice thing about the connected world we live in is that you find people who get exactly what you’re talking about.  Not friends whose job it is to tell you you’re awesome, but fellow risk-takers and book-writers who understand the despair only a writer understands.  What if… Now what… What am I DOING?  Not answered, not really.  But understood.

I gave a talk at MN ITEM recently about the changing publishing world, and how it can impact the classroom.  I kept referring to Napster (remember them?).  Back when Napster was threatening to destroy music as we know it, artists were coming out shaking their fists and demanding to know how they can make a living when all of their art is available for free online.  Napster, of course, didn’t ruin music. But it did force artists to do “more” than hide away and create music.  They had to be a “brand”, be connected with the outside world, be willing to put on a killer concert and tour the world.  They had to sell themselves, and then in turn sell the music.  This happens all the time with writers now, and in most ways, it’s awesome.  The past year of hustling from school to school, conference to conference has been totally life-changing and fulfilling.

But I’m exhausted, truly.  And I really want to write.

This week, I’m working with Wise Ink on the compilation of the Inkpossible anthology.  So much beautiful work in there, and I was honored to edit it and write the forward.  However, as I wrote, I noticed a hint of cynicism.  This is no easy path, young writers.  Be careful.  Be aware.

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This is the part where I’d normally make a list of things to pull me out of the “hardness” of this part of the journey, but that would be disingenuous.  So instead, I’ll refer to a conversation I had with a teacher yesterday during a school visit, when she told me about her dream of writing a book, and how she was scared but wanted to give it a try.

“You have to see it as a legacy,” I told her.  “If nothing else, your writing is a gift you leave your children and family.  Your authentic voice.  If you see it that way, you will succeed.”

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Commentary, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

One Year Out

I can hardly believe it’s almost been an entire year since The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High launched.  I seriously cannot.  What a long road to get there, and what a long, continuous road I’m still on.  Book #2 is back in my hands after receiving some incredible feedback from a group of seventh graders, and I’m looking at the manuscript right now thinking, “Really? Can I actually do this again?”  The answer, of course, is yes.  But I sure will be smarter this time around.  Here are a few things I’ve learned on the one year anniversary of going indie.

1.  Don’t OD on editing

Believe me, I did my research before publishing.  Much of that research stated that editing is the number one thing you can do to ensure success, and the number one thing you should focus your investment in.  I agree wholeheartedly.  However, I was so paranoid about my prose/grammar not being “perfect”, that I spent way too much time and money on the process.  I have a wonderful editor now who knows and trusts my vision and voice, and she will likely be the only person who will content edit my manuscript.  And as far as proofreading goes, once is enough.  Fine, twice.  But that’s IT.

2.  Less online, more community

So many people talk about the importance of an “online” presence in indie publishing.  They are right.  But I think I let that overwhelm me to the point that I didn’t pay enough attention to the resources right in my own zip code.  This second book will be less about getting online reviews, and more about getting into the community to talk about the book.

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3.  Marathons are more rewarding than sprints

My wise publishers at Wise Ink mentioned this several times:  Publishing a book is a marathon, not a sprint.  But what they neglected to say is that the marathon is totally enjoyable.  One year out, and I’ve never had one giant “Amazon Day” when a billion of my books were sold and a check was on its way to me.  What I have had are awesome school visits, interesting conferences, and super fun book clubs.  All of those have added up to sales, of course, but they’ve also been some of the best parts of the publishing process.

4. Believe

I couldn’t talk about the one-year anniversary of the book without getting a little sentimental.  I’m not going to lie– this has been quite a journey.  Mostly ups, but a few downs.  As with anything artistic, I think there needs to be a greater purpose to what you do.  Simply “writing” isn’t enough for me– it’s the idea that what I write could possibly impact someone’s life positively.  You have to believe in that greater purpose, because if you don’t you are missing out on the greater happiness that comes from pursuing your life-long dream.

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My greater purpose.

The Indie Journey

Morningside After Dark and Autobiographical Writing

Remember last year, when I read at Morningside After Dark?  Well I did it again this year.  Writing and reading this piece was an incredible learning experience for me, the first and foremost being that I AM NO WHERE NEAR READY TO WRITE A MEMOIR.  But I am so proud of this piece, proud of the organizers of the event who do so much to support local artists, and proud of myself for getting up there and reading it.  I have been Facebooked, Tweeted, and personally approached by strangers thanking me for sharing this, which has been humbling and inspiring in equal measure.  Here it is…*

*but before I start, I need and I mean NEED to get ahold of the actor Robert Hays!  First person to connect me with him gets wine, baked goods, and tears and hugs of appreciation.

Okay, here we go.  Here is me, Monday night:

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Thank you, Robert Hays

For those of you who don’t know, Robert Hays is the dashingly handsome star of the greatest movie of all time.  Airplane! (with an exclamation point!), directed by Jim Abrams and the Zucker brothers, and released in 1980, when I was two years old.  If you are not familiar with this film, I give you full permission to stop listening and download it onto your preferred technological device.  But just promise me you’ll start from the beginning—“The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only,” and stick with it until the end.  The very, very end, when the thirteenth president of the United States, Millard Fillmore, is thanked in the credits.

When Airplane! Entered my home, it was in its boxed VHS format, at least eight years after its release.  Airplane! 2 had already been made, released, and sent to VHS.  Leslie Neilson was promoting his Naked Gun series, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar was embarking on his long and totally underappreciated run in TV sitcoms.  The late eighties were a time of Phil Donohue, the First George Bush, and Please, Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.  I was twelve years old, an awkward Catholic school kid smack in the middle of all that awesome.

I don’t remember my very first viewing of Airplane, though it must have happened on the green shag carpet that underlined most of my childhood in California.  I loved it instantly, as did my brother and sister and dad.  We watched it daily, and for a long time.  “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!” we would roar to each other, while my mother stirred far-past al dente pasta on the stove and begged us to shut up.  This was before the academy of pediatrics was hell-bent on making parents feel terrible for “screen time”.  We grew up in front of the TV, and lived our lives through it.  Mornings: the Today show.  Afternoons:  All My Children Evenings: The NBC Nightly News while we ate dinner and begged incessantly for it to be “our turn”, which meant putting Airplane on.

 “Joey, do you like movies about Gladiators?”

Of the hundreds of jokes in that movie, we got maybe ten of them.  Ted’s drinking problem was a favorite, and none of us could get enough of Barbara Billingsly speaking jive.  I can’t tell you what it was about that movie, but we all bonded over it.  When dad laughed, we laughed. When we couldn’t find something to talk to each other about, we talked about Airplane.

 “You got a letter from headquarters this morning.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a big building where generals meet.  But that’s not important right now.”

We got the news of my father’s illness in June of 1990.  Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Ally McBeal.  And my dad, with inoperable cancer at age 49. When you’re twelve, and your biggest worry is how much Aussie scrunch hairspray you have for your bangs, there is no preparation for such a thing.  We needed Ted and Elaine more than ever.

 There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

Something happens to a home when it holds a sick person.  It bursts with movement and energy.  It is constantly filled with equipment and clicky prescription bottles, and the smell of other people’s casseroles. All the attention, all the noise…  I didn’t mind it. It was the only way to keep from screaming as we watched my father embark on chemo and radiation.

 Nervous?

Yes.

First time?

No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.

We as a family endured that painful summer, which is to say we survived it.  My mom fell deeper and deeper into despair as the leaves turned, and the conversations in our home were quick, as though we were all made of glass and liable to break if someone used the wrong verb.  Airplane played on what could only be described as a constant loop during those cancer days.  Every time we couldn’t take another second of sickness, we put on the scene where Ted Stryker dances to Saturday Night Fever.  Try watching that scene and crying about the state of your life.  IT CANNOT BE DONE.

Twelve is an odd time to watch someone die.  At twelve, you feel invincible.  You feel like life owes you something.  You feel things should be fair.  But nothing about what was happening to us was fair, and we all knew it.  One night in October, after my dad had been checked in to the hospital for good, I overheard him pleading with my mother.  His voice was barely intelligible from drugs and pain.  “Let me go,” he moaned to her.  “Please, just let me go.”

“Captian, how soon can you land?

“I can’t tell”.

“You can tell me, I’m a doctor.”

“No, I mean I’m not sure.”

“Well, can’t you take a guess?”

“Not for another two hours.”

“You can’t take a guess for another two hours?”

Something happens to a house when a person inside of it dies.  It hollows out and echoes, as if it’s in mourning with you.  The emptiness was torture for me, but no more so than being the kid at school that every feels sorry for.  So I watched Airplane.  I showed it to my friends so we could have something to talk about other than my sad, sad mom. We acted out scenes from the cockpit.  “We have clearance, Clarence.  Roger, Roger.  What’s our vector, Victor?” We laughed and laughed, and somehow, made it through.

In the many years that have passed now, I have continued to love slapstick.  I think of my father every time I watch Modern Family, and how much he would love love love that show.  Comedy gets us through hard times.  Airplane taught me that it’s okay to laugh when things are unlaughable.  And now, when I see clips of that movie, or think of it in passing, I see it as a way of connecting with my dad, whom I missed so much during the Dana Carvey SNL years, and miss today, but in a different way.

As a teacher and now a young adult writer, I have been asked many times about getting through hard times as a child.  “How did you do it?” People ask.  “How did you get through.” I say lots of different things, depending on my audience, because there’s no one thing that gets a person through pain.  But I would be lying if I said Robert Hays and the entire cast of Airplane didn’t have an impact on how I handle difficult times now.

I mentioned this to a grieving friend recently, the ebb and flow of life, and how I look at my challenges as pieces of a great mosaic that came together and formed me.  And I thought of Airplane, and the power of laughter, and how it makes me sad that one day when I write my autobiography it cannot be read by the late, great Robert Stack, who was the perfect host of Unsolved Mysteries, but an even more perfect Captain Rex Kramer.

“You mean to tell me that I won’t hurt like this all the time?  That I’ll be okay?  Surely you can’t be serious.

I am serious.  And don’t call me Shirley.

 

Commentary, The Indie Journey

Four Important Lessons about Writing (that I learned from my tax guy)

Gathering tax information is always stressful, but this year I had the added ‘bonus’ of being a published writer.  I walked in my tax guy’s office this morning as mental lists swirled in my head… what did I forget?  Did I organize things right?  No one talks about the not-so-fun logistical stuff when you’re busy making your creative dreams come true.

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Did I forget things? Yes.  (Two things, actually.)  But something else happened during my tax appointment this morning, some life-lessons that I thought I’d share here:

1.  Keep yourself organized

I am fairly good at this, and it turned out that my simple spreadsheet of money that has gone in and money that has gone out worked perfectly fine.  I cannot imagine how stressful it would have been had I had no idea of what money had exchanged hands and how many books I’d sold/still had in inventory.  So do that, writers.  Keep organized.

2.  Remember you’re making an investment

Without getting too detailed about money, let’s just say I’m still in the red with the book.  Not by much, mind you.  But a little bit.  Do I wish I was in the black? Yes, of course.  But, as my tax guy reminded me multiple times, these things take time.  You’re investing in yourself, your brand, your creative talents.  Eventually, hooooooopefully, this will mean that you’re bringing in more than you’re putting out.  But if you don’t, especially in the first year, don’t sweat it.

3.  Keep writing

My tax appointment was about 45 minutes this morning, but at least half of that time was spent listening to my tax guy encourage me to keep writing.  He had a copy of my book on his desk when I walked in, and went on an on about how important he felt the topic of school funding is, and how he can’t wait for book two.  If you are a writer, you can imagine how much this meant to me, especially as I was dealing with the harsh reality of financing and independent writing career.

4.  Take the support where you find it

Writing and publishing a book has been humbling on many levels. Personally, professionally, the whole gamut.  I learned early on not to let my own expectations of people and their level of support deter me.  People will be supportive in the ways they are able to be, and sometimes that means in ways you don’t see or understand.  What I’m trying to say is that in a world of multiple rejections and harsh book reviews, when someone totally unexpected (i.e. your tax guy) comes out and encourages you with heartfelt sincerity, take that positivity and use it to move forward.  Or, as Thoreau said better than I:

Go Confidently

Commentary, Contest!, Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching, The Indie Journey

INKPOSSIBLE!

I have been dying to tell the good news about this project for some time now, and am SO happy the time is now!  Wise Ink, my publishers and all-around wonderful people, are starting a yearly anthology contest for young people.

And guess who is their #1 sponsor?!

If you know of any aspiring writers, please encourage them to submit!

 

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The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Four Tips for Going Indie

In the last few weeks I’ve met with three women who are considering publishing their first books.  I knew one before, but the other two contacted me after reading my book and figuring out I was local.  They each are on their own journeys, but I couldn’t help but realize the connection between all of them.  A lot of the advice I gave was the same across the board.  Here are a few things I shared:

Go Confidently1.  Believe in the work

If you are looking to publish a book and you yourself don’t believe it’s really– REALLY– great, then don’t bother.  A lot of writers (myself included) looked to the publishing industry as “verification” that I was good, and that the work was good.  I got that, actually, and encouraged all of these women to do the same.  But if you’re going indie but don’t really believe in your heart that you have the chops to do it, then you’re in for some major disappointment.

2.  Figure out a marketing plan

Each of these women was pretty intimidated about the idea of marketing their own work.  I get it– I was, too.  I flat-out refused to go on Facebook and beg my friends to buy my book. I was (and still am) super uncomfortable about sitting at a table and trying to direct sell that way.  But those aren’t the only ways to market your book.  My direct contact with schools has been great for book sales, but more importantly has been a joy for me.  Each book and each writer is different, but since you make the most money selling direct, you’re going to have to figure out a way to do just that.

3.  Spend money where it counts

The way I see it, there are two differences between traditional and indie publishing.  First, a big publishing house gives the author a “legitimacy” that an indie might not have (though this is changing daily).  Second, a big publishing house will front the costs.  THAT is a pretty major plus.  However, if you have a budget to work with (and know it will take some time to make that money back and then turn a profit, then spend money your money on the things that matter.  Content editing (I did this three times.)  Proofreading (I did this… more than three times.) A fabulous cover.  A publicist to get the word out.  It seems like a lot, and it is.  But you’re creating a product, and how are you going to sell it if it’s not something you’re immensely proud of?

4.  Define success

Are you looking to become a millionaire?  Chances are, indie publishing isn’t your best bet.  Actually, traditional publishing is ALSO not your best bet.  WRITING is not your best bet, if it’s riches you seek.  Interestingly, each of the women I met with was a mom, like me.  Each of them, like me, talked about wanted to create something their children would be proud of.  Each of them talked about how writing was not only their dream, but their lifelong passion.  When you put it in those terms, the dollar signs become less important.  You should feel successful the moment you hold that finished product in your hands.  Despite all the uncertainty that lay ahead, this was one of my proudest moments as a mother and writer:

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My sweet daughter, signing books with me.  Priceless.

Commentary, Guest Post, Teachable Books, Teaching, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Teachers Make the Best Writers

This post originally appeared at The Novel Novice:

Go to a staff development meeting at your kids’ schools.  Do it.  Watch the room full of teachers, people who tell your kids every single day to pay attention, sit up straight, don’t look at their cell phones, give it their all…. Watch them do exactly the opposite of that.  Side conversations.  Sneaked text messages.  Grading papers while other people are talking.

There is a saying that teachers make the worst students.  It is true.

I taught high school English for seven years before becoming a stay at home mom and author.  Some of my best lesson planning happened during meetings when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else.  In our defense, teachers are so inundated with paperwork, so bound by their school’s bell schedule, that they often don’t have the luxury of giving anything their undivided attention.  Multitasking is just the reality of the job.

As I wrote my first YA novel, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, I had this reality in mind. The swamped, overworked, and underpaid teacher that I was sat like my own private editor on my shoulder.  How about chapter lengths that could be easily read as a nightly homework assignment? The teacher in me kept asking.  How about organizing the vocabulary words in the back?  How about coming up with some writing prompts to help teachers actually teach this thing?

Writing and publishing is about so much more than just telling a good story.  Don’t get me wrong—that is important. But the idea I had for my book wasn’t just as entertainment for kids.  I wanted it to be used in the classroom to help facilitate discussion.  I wanted teachers to see it as a resource, not just another to-do on their plate.

I knew I could do that, because I was one of them.  Even on the hard days, even on the days when I didn’t have lunch and my front seat was piled high with papers to grade, I loved being one of them.  Being a teacher meant that I knew my direct audience—kids—but also my indirect audience—the exhausted adults who love them.

Knowing both—wanting to positively impact both—gave me a vision and a purpose.  A career that I am proud to watch unfold.

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The Indie Journey, Uncategorized

Five Things I Learned from my Book Launch

I did it!  This guy is launched and shipping!

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The launch itself was amazing, truly. I am so, so lucky to have had such support from Magers and Quinn, along with family and friends and an unbelievable community of book-lovers.

I was a bit of a fish out of water in the whole launch-planning process.  Book writing is one thing, party-planning is quite another. I actually resisted the launch for a long time, since being the center of attention is not something I’m very good at.  So here are my tips for other writers planning their launch:

1.  Parter with an amazing bookstore

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There was no better feeling than being in a fantastic space such as Magers and Quinn, surrounded by books and book-lovers, when you’re standing up there giving a speech about the writing process.  I know many authors have had great launches at restaurants or in their homes (and they likely make more money from book sales), but for me that wasn’t the point.  Magers and Quinn’s belief in my book helped with my own belief in the book.

2.  Keep it simple

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This is a picture of the refreshment table (Thank you, Costco.).  I toyed with the idea of doing more lavish food, but ended up glad for this simple display.  My biggest expense were the monogrammed napkins and the custom-designed “guest book” printable:

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3.  Open it up; pay it forward. 

When I found out that Magers and Quinn was going to host the launch and I realized what a platform this was going to give for me as a writer, I felt strongly that I had to “pay it forward”.  What is the point of having all that attention if you can’t help someone else in the process? So I contacted Edina A Better Chance, which does amazing work in our community, and offered the director a chance to talk about her program.  And because of that, she got to meet some educators in the audience as well as all the wonderful people at Magers and Quinn.  Win, win, win.

4.  Share the spotlight.

If you are the type of writer who shuns the spotlight like I do, I cannot recommend this highly enough.  I spoke for a few minutes about the book, but the majority of the event was to showcase other talented kids in the community.  This serves many purposes, not the least of which to get many more people in the audience than you might have not otherwise had.  It was such a joy to have young readers get a chance to shine in front of a crowd.

This is a poster board presented by a very talented 4th grade car designer.
This is a poster board presented by a very talented 4th grade car designer.

5.  Define Success

I find it dangerous to measure success in dollars, particularly as an independent writer.  Sure, making money is nice.  It is a goal.  But it doesn’t define success. For me, it was this moment:

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This is my daughter, holding my book.  Being a part of the launch, of watching her mom’s dream come true.  You just cannot put a price on that.

Commentary, Teachable Books, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Writing Clean When Dirty Sells

This post originally appeared at The Writer’s Block:

 

I read Fifty Shades of Grey just as it was beginning its worldwide whirlwind.  I knew the premise and wasn’t all that excited about it, but just as a foodie wants to eat all the food everyone is talking about, a book nerd like me needs to be in the “know” about the books making headlines.

 

I got through it, and let’s just say it was not my cup of English Breakfast Tea (ah, Anastasia…)  Sure, I had my opinions about sexism and feminism and all the other “isms” associated with a story like that, but what it boiled down to was this: I found it totally boring.  I had no desire to read the next book when I finally got to the end.

 

Despite not liking the story, I had no problem with it.  That is, until I started seeing it everywhere.  All over the morning news, which I watch with my kids.  On proud display at Target, just one aisle over from the coloring books.  On the beach.  Everywhere.

 

This was while I was in the final editing stages of my YA novel, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, when I was deciding whether traditionally or independently publishing the book would make the most sense.  I started seeing my rejections from the traditional world from the “Fifty Shades” perspective.  “We love the story, we love the characters, but we’re not sure we can sell it,” I heard in various iterations, and it finally dawned on me why.

 

My book is “clean”.  No vampires, no violence, no sex.  As a parent and teacher, I think this is one of its strongest selling points.  As an agent, or as a traditional publisher, it is its weakest.

 

In light of this reality of selling books (go ahead and take a look at just how much erotica dominates your “bestselling” list at Barnes and Noble), I didn’t change the story. In fact, this newfound understanding helped me add to the book. Where does a book like mine belong? Possibly in a classroom, possibly in a book club.  Possibly with a group of parents who really want to read with their kids, and don’t want to have to worry about the story being “appropriate”.  I added a study guide to the back and realized that I could sell my book better than anyone in New York could.

 

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High will be released March 23, 2014, along with almost 300,000 more titles this same year.  Do I have any expectations for EL James’s fortune and fame?  No.

 

But as writers, we are more than the number of copies we sell.  We write what is true for us, what we feel can resonate with others.  I’m proud of the story I wrote, and will be proud to show it to my kids someday.  That is fortune enough for me.

Book Reviews, The Indie Journey

Book Review: Welcome to the Small World

I met Kelly McManus through our mutual publisher, Wise Ink, and since we both have books launching soon (SOON! Like, crazy soon!) we decided to do a “book review swap”.  When I first heard about Welcome to the Small World, I had no idea what to expect.  Picture books aren’t exactly my thing anymore.  But when I got my copy of the book, it was clear to me why their Kickstarter campaign was so ridiculously successful.   This book is just pure joy.

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The premise is simple:  Little “people” in a much larger world.  The pictures, by Kurt Moses, are totally captivating.  A tiny figurine on a flower next to a bumble bee.  Tiny farmer toys putting “huge” corn kernals into an itty bitty wheelbarrow.  The imagery is whimsical, the captions hilarious.  This is the type of book that gets people of all ages talking.  And more importantly– smiling.

Could you “teach” this book?  No, probably not.  But what I couldn’t stop thinking about what using this type of book in an art class, to show students how art can be used to show a broader vision of life.  How, when size and scale are distorted, things can look scary or silly or suddenly in a more clear perspective.  How a photographer does so much more than point and click– they see a version of the world, and make it real.

I’ll also add that my three year old LOVED the book (except the spider on the cover– “too scary!” :).  We’re headed to the book launch party this Thursday and are excited to meet Kelly and Kurt in person!

Contest!, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

New Look, New Contest!

I have a new cover for my book:

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Can you handle it?!  I mean, CAN YOU HANDLE IT?!

 

There’s a lot to say about the cover-choosing process while independently publishing, but let’s put it this way:  it’s not as fun as one might think it would be.  At least for someone like me, who is not-so-visual.  I loved my old cover, designed by Scarlett Rugers.    I love this one, too, designed by Kevin Cannon, but for different reasons.  But at some point you must go with your gut, and my gut says this is the one.

So, in honor of going with my gut and my book going to press TODAY (!!!!!!!) I’m kicking off my first Twitter contest.

What could YOUR school do to become a better place?

The winning response (determined by me) must:

  • Be a practical idea that could be implemented with little or no money
  • Be confined to one tweet (140 characters)
  • Include the hashtag #takebackmyschool

How to up your chances of winning:

The winner will be notified by DM on Twitter, and will receive a $50 Amazon Gift Card!  Contest begins today and ends March 15, 2014.  The winner will be notified by March 16th.

Good luck!!

Book Reviews, Commentary, Common Core, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Books That Do More

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from independently publishing The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High is that technology has changed the game in the book world.  I’m not just talking about e-books– I’m talking about the books themselves.  We live in an age where anyone can publish a book.  Heck, anyone with a blog is technically “self-publishing”. So in order to do have an “edge” (read: sell books), your book must offer “more”.  There must be something extra.

For me, that meant including a study guide built around the Common Core Standards.

And what I’ve noticed is that a lot of authors– traditionally published authors– are doing the same thing.  Here are some of the books that have been on my radar for some time, ones that have upped the ante so to speak when it comes to novels.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

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This is such a beautiful book.  The illustrations are breathtaking and the story is timeless.  This was a favorite in the middle grade book club I hosted a couple years ago.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer

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This is hands-down one of the best books I’ve ever read.  The book is just as much a visual experience as it is an emotional one.  Though I loved the movie version, there is just no way of capturing the book’s depth on film.

 S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

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Have you heard of this book?  If not, let me show you what you’ll find on the inside:

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I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my bookshelf waiting now.  The reviews look pretty good, and I can’t wait to see what the reading experience is like.

What other novels have you read that offer “more”?